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A Call to Action: Addiction in America

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My name is Mark Rosenberg, and I am an alcoholic and addict.

An easy sentence to say with almost five years of soberly under my belt, but as a 25-year-old kid who hadn't been sober for more than 12 hours at a time for nearly two years, those were the most difficult words I had ever uttered.

Between the ages of 18 and 25, my life consisted of boozing, drugging, late nights with strangers and behavior that would have made even the most reckless of partiers head spin. It started in high-school when I smoked pot for the first time. That feeling of euphoria took over me and once I felt comfortable with smoking weed, it was easy to segue into more dangerous drugs such as mushrooms, ecstasy and cocaine. By 23 I was a well-known party boy, going to all of the hottest clubs in Manhattan and frequenting after hours clubs with some of the most unsavory people you'd ever want to meet. It wasn't until the age of 25 when I woke up in my ex-boyfriend's bed, unaware of how I gotten there in the first place that something sparked in me -- a call to action to change my behavior and get help. I knew I would be unable to do it alone so I got in touch with people who could help me, and while it has been a long, hard road to get where I am, I am very happy that I did -- however and unfortunately, the same cannot be said for everyone.

Over the years, I have made it a personal goal to help others, as I had been helped in my time of need. And in the course of nearly five years, I have seen people struggle with a disease that is still very much a mystery to many. I am sure you are going to question that last sentence in which I referred to alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease. Well, it is a disease. And just like cancer, heart disease or diabetes, unless you take the proper steps to remedy the disease, it will simply get worse and may eventually end up killing you. When I was drinking and drugging people always looked down on my behavior, but I couldn't stop. I thought that I was a bad person -- not an alcoholic -- and because of my surroundings, it took me even longer to get sober. I wasn't educated.

Science has made great strides over the years in what can be done to treat diseases such as HIV and cancer; however, what can be done to cure alcoholism is still a mystery. It is an incurable disease that does not go away with a pill or radiation. It remains with you until you die. How you remedy that disease, whether it be through therapy, NA or AA or exercise is up to you, and as you don't go back to drinking or using drugs, you are on the path to success. Seems pretty easy, right? Think again. Addicts and alcoholics' brains operate differently than "normal people" and anything from a celebration to a bad day at work or the dissolving or a relationship can trigger the urge to drink or use drugs. Our brains are programmed differently than people who can casually have a glass of wine with dinner or take a few hits of pot and put it down. We need to drink the whole bottle and smoke every last bit of marijuana in sight. We simply don't know any better.

With the untimely and all-too-soon passing of Cory Monteith, star of FOX's smash-hit Glee, addiction has once again been put on a national stage. It is always heartbreaking to see someone so young pass before their time, especially someone who had so much going for them. So, why, I ask, do we feel the need to say things like "He had it coming!" or "Good riddance!" If he had passed from cancer or HIV, would you be saying the same thing? What Americans need to realize is that addiction is a disease. Of course, we all make the initial decision of whether or not we want to try a drug or drink for the first time -- how our brains and bodies react to it is different. No one wakes up in the morning and says: "You know what, I'd like to be a heroin addict today." We use drugs and drink because our brains tell us that it's the right thing to do and we convince ourselves that by using drugs and alcohol, we will eventually feel better. It's a horrible life to lead and unfortunately not everyone can overcome addiction.

Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself: "Am I an addict?" Because addiction comes in all forms, whether it be something as serious as drugs and alcohol or something as seemingly harmless as food, working out or caffeine. Everyone has a demon to fight, and for some, it's simply not as easy as others because their brains operate differently. They are the addicts.

So before you judge that homeless drug addict on the street or celebrity who is publicly battling their demons on a world stage, think to yourself how hard you fought to not eat and extra piece of cake after dinner or down a third cup of coffee in the morning. Addiction is everywhere in this country so educate yourself -- know the proper steps to take to help a friend who may need it and refrain from judging because everyone has something they want to overcome.

Everyone has a demon to fight, what's yours?

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

If you or someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol and wants help: CLICK HERE.

For more by Mark Brennan Rosenberg, click here.

For more on addiction and recovery, click here.

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