Addiction: Why Can't They Just Stop?

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More than 23 million Americans struggle with some kind of addiction, but less than 10 percent get treatment for it. The Addiction Project, which includes a documentary on HBO and a book, presents addiction as a chronic but treatable brain disease. The book "Addiction: Why Can't They Just Stop?" guides readers through the ins and outs of addiction treatment. The following is an excerpt.

Want more information on addiction and the HBO series? Visit www.addictionaction.org.

Why Can't They Just Stop?

It was like a hard-hitting reality -- "I am an alcoholic." I am one of those people I see on TV. I am one of those people I used to criticize, thinking, How can they be so weak?
--JULIE, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC

It was December, a peaceful evening, the sidewalks covered in fallen leaves. Along with a few colleagues, Timothy* ducked out of his office. The 42-year-old engineer wore a new blazer and gray wool slacks underneath a gray overcoat, which he pulled tighter when he felt the cold night.

Timothy, tall with hazel eyes and dark hair parted on the side, ran a small, elite R&D division at a software company. He was a popular boss. He loved his job, though not the required seasonal office parties like the one he was walking to that evening.

En route, Timothy held back from his colleagues for a moment. Retrieving his cell phone from underneath his coat, he dialed home. Lara*, his wife, answered on the first ring. Their 14-month-old was singing in the background and banging on a toy drum.

After asking about the kids and Lara's day, Timothy promised, "I'll be home in a couple of hours. I'll escape as quickly as humanly possible." When Lara told him to have fun, he half groaned. "You know what these things are like," he said. "I'll pay my respects and be home soon. I love you."

"I love you."

The restaurant was decorated for the holidays with twinkling white lights, a flocked Christmas tree, and red-leafed poinsettias on white-clothed tables. A jazz combo, set up in a corner of the room under mistletoe, played a vaguely recognizable version of "O Holy Night."

Timothy's colleagues dispersed, making their way toward other early arrivals, and meanwhile a waiter approached him and asked what he would like to drink. Without giving it a second thought, he asked for a sparkling water. In recovery for three years, he had made sparkling water a habit. At AA meetings, he joked that it had become his drug of choice -- having replaced the drugs that previously had vied for that title: cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription pills such as Valium and Vicodin. It was those drugs, when mixed and combined with a new Toyota Prius, that landed him in a hospital emergency room. The car was totaled but he was fine. Miraculously. The greatest miracle, however, was that he had driven his car into a tree and not an oncoming car. Afterward, he dwelled on this detail. A head-on collision probably would have been fatal, but that wasn't the worst scenario. Much worse, Timothy knew, would have been to have survived the accident but harmed someone. Or killed someone. He could not have lived with that. It was a sobering realization. Figuratively and literally.

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