Addiction is a disease, not a choice. When it comes to substance abuse, like drug or alcohol addictions, as a society we’ve made strides in getting individuals the help they need. Yet outside of the medical community, many people don’t understand – or believe – that addiction is a disease people often cannot control on their own.

Chris Cornell's Widow Opens Up About How Addiction is a Disease

Vicky Cornell Talks About How Addiction is a Disease on GMA

Recently, for the first time since Soundgarden’s frontman Chris Cornell died from apparent suicide on May 17, 2017, his widow, Vicky Cornell, spoke on camera about the musician’s drug addiction and relapse for the national morning talk show, Good Morning America (GMA).

Chris had struggled with addiction for years before getting treatment and becoming sober in 2003. According to his wife, about one year before his death he was prescribed a benzodiazepine to help with sleeping. Benzodiazepines are a class of psychotic drugs that enhance the effect of one’s GABA receptor and have sedative and sleep-inducing properties, amongst others. They’re often used when treating insomnia, anxiety, seizures or muscle spasms, and even alcohol withdrawal.

After beginning the medication, Vicky tells GMA, he relapsed taking 20 pills in a 7-day period and 33 pills in a 9-day period. The night of his death, Vicky spoke with him on the phone after his show. He was slurring his words and she thought he sounded confused.

While the official medical report of Chris’ death ruled the cause of death as suicide by hanging, it didn’t take his past drug abuse, addiction history, or recovery into consideration, mentioning that there were seven different drugs in his system at the time of death but not factoring them into his death.

Vicky thinks otherwise.

She tells the GMA interviewer that she believes her husband would never have wanted to take his own life and wasn’t able to make appropriate decisions that fateful night due to his “level of impairment.”

Though she doesn’t dispute the fact that the acclaimed musician killed himself, in the interview she admits that there were signs that Chris had possibly relapsed and that the effects of drugs in his system caused him to do things he wouldn’t have done in a sober state.

Addiction is a disease, not a choice

In a pivotal part of the interview, the show host says, “You relapse after cancer. I had a relapse and nobody questioned it. Why is it different when you have an addiction, which is an illness, why is it any different? It’s not.”

“People don’t recognise it as a disease,” Vicky says. “You think addiction is a choice, and it’s not.”

She says she was guilty of the same thing. She’s certainly not the only one.

Those who haven’t experienced addiction may look at others’ addictions through the lens of their own actions or experiences, believing that, since they can control their alcohol or substance intake, it must be a choice of those abusing substances to continue the abuse or relapse.

In reality, addictions can be classified as a mental illness and, especially when drugs are involved, can alter an individual’s ability to control their thoughts, cravings, and actions.

Accepting this, along with being aware of potential relapses, can greatly affect how people are treated and lessen the possibility of relapsing. High profile cases, such as Chris Cornell’s death and his wife speaking out, can raise awareness and hopefully lead to changes in society’s perceptions. Along with accepting addiction as a disease, it’s also crucial to be aware of the warning signs of a drug relapse.

What is a drug relapse?

We’ve all heard it before, but do you really understand what a drug relapse or alcohol relapse is? A relapse is the reappearance of a disease that has gone into recovery or remission. Since addiction is a chronic disease, it can return, or relapse.

Relapses are common and they don’t mean that the person has “failed” at sobriety or actively chosen to relapse. Relapsing can be particularly dangerous for someone who has been sober for an extended period of time as taking the drug of choice could cause an overdose or even death since their body’s tolerance is lower than when they were an active user.

Being aware that a relapse may occur for someone in drug or alcohol recovery, looking for warning signs and taking early action at the first signs of relapse can reduce one’s risk and help protect them from further abuse or fatal consequences.

Warning Signs of a Drug Relapse

Relapse can happen at any time during one’s recovery and can actually develop over time. Warning signs of a drug relapse are often broken down into three stages:

  1. Emotional
  2. Mental
  3. Physical

Initially one’s emotional and mental stability may take a hit before reaching stage three and physically using the substance again. Before the substance abuse, there are a number of signs to watch out for including:

  • Negative or destructive thoughts
  • Mood swings, depression, or anxiety
  • Compulsive behavior, or sudden changes in behaviour and routines
  • Neglecting personal hygiene or healthy habits
  • Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
  • Isolation from groups or activities
  • Returning to unhealthy environments or relationships
  • Doubting the recovery process
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Of course, the best thing to do when noticing signs of a potential relapse is to seek help as quickly as possible. This could be in the form of contacting one’s physician, sponsor, past counsellor or treatment centre, or reaching out to a new treatment centre for help, information, and guidance.

During addiction treatment from a centre, clients are taught about tools, trigger warnings, and coping mechanisms they can use in recovery to mitigate relapses. Ongoing aftercare and support is also an important part of one’s recovery and effort against relapse. At The Cabin Chiang Mai, we take great care in ensuring clients have the support and resources they need once leaving the centre including an Online Aftercare Counselling Programme and a sober house in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

If you’ve noticed the warning signs of a drug relapse in yourself or someone you know, contact us.

About the Author

The Cabin Clinical Team

The Cabin Clinical Team

Our team boasts over 10 years of experience working with individuals struggling with addiction and mental health challenges. This extensive experience allows us to provide comprehensive assessments, develop personalized treatment plans, and deliver evidence-based interventions tailored to meet your unique needs.

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