In light of the substance abuse issue our state and community face, it’s important to discuss and know what we’re dealing with.

Make no mistake — addiction is and always has been a behavioral disorder and numerous studies suggest there are biological causes and risk factors related to family history.

There are some who view addiction as a choice that an individual makes or as a behavior that can be stopped willingly at any time.

We believe this viewpoint is based on surface level observation, with an ignorance of the inner machinations of the victim’s brain and a surprising lack of empathy for their fellow human.

We all know people who think this way — a relative, a Facebook friend, a coworker. Perhaps this person lost a close friend or loved one to a substance abuse disorder and wants to convince themselves there was nothing that could have been done to help. Perhaps they have never known someone afflicted and are drawing their conclusions based on outside observations or media depictions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

Medical professionals’ understanding of addiction has expanded in the past several years, and it is now seen as a complex psychological and physiological problem that demands careful treatment.

We have seen an awakening in the public consciousness regarding mental health — a fresh surge of social media outreach seems to permeate sites every time a celebrity commits suicide due to depression. Mental health also becomes a buzzword when there has been a major shooting. Is it so hard to believe that the most complex organ in the human body can have myriad complications and experience changes as a result of particular substances?

What about those who are trying these drugs for the first time? Addiction doesn’t come out of nowhere, everything starts with a choice. Or does it?

The last time you went to the doctor for an illness or injury, did you stop to question their recommendation? Did you wonder about the risks associated with an antibiotic or topical ointment? If your prescription had made you sick, would you consider yourself to blame?

Many cases of addiction begin with a back or other major injury that causes chronic pain and a prescription to manage that pain. Patients gain a tolerance for the medication and find themselves needing to take higher doses to deal with their symptoms. With the higher dosage comes the issue of running out of their prescription before they’re supposed to. Or, worse, their doctor stops writing them a prescription altogether. The patient is left still in pain from their injury, and now experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which can manifest in many different ways, all of which feel like severe illness.

Desperate for treatment, they turn to friends or neighbors — anybody who might know where to get a comparable medication to the one their doctor stopped giving them. The drugs don’t come cheap, though, and the patient is going to need an increasing amount. Soon, they find a cheaper alternative that provides the same kind of feeling — heroin.

This is a story, not of one drug user, but of many. It’s the story of someone’s child or sibling. It’s the story of someone who needs help — and someone who had very little agency in their outcome.