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Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

It used to be that addiction was seen largely as a sign of poor character and weakness of will, making individuals with alcohol and drug dependencies seem like innately bad people. As a result, substance abuse becomes highly criminalized with individuals who suffered from forms of chemical dependency often being sentenced to jail after committing crimes that their addictions led them to commit. 

But the question is this: is drug addiction a disease or just a result of criminal behavior?

Fortunately, we have years of study and scholarship that have enlightened the consensus regarding the nature of addiction despite it still being largely criminalized. More and more frequently, individuals who suffer from addiction are being directed toward the treatments that are appropriate for their suffering, affording them with the opportunity to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction.

However, despite the information that has amassed, there is still much debate concerning the characterization of addiction. In other words, many remain unconvinced that addiction is a disease rather than a matter of moral failing and deviance or a form of behavioral deviance. Each differing perspective has its own evidence in support of the notion, which makes finding the definitive solution especially tricky.

Is drug addiction a disease or an illness or is it something else? Is the disease model of addiction simply an attempt to portray addicts as victims of biology rather than of their own choices and behavior? With an estimated one-in-ten Americans suffering from addiction today, the search for the root of addiction is more important than ever. While one might simply chalk off the contrasting perspectives as being diverse ways to arrive at a comparable solution to a single problem, it’s important to have an accurate understanding of addiction—including how it develops and any potential causes—because knowing this information will mean that individuals who suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction will be able to receive the most effective treatments possible.

Is Addiction Merely a Moral Failing & Lack of Self-Control?

Despite the shift in perspectives concerning the nature of addiction, there has remained a substantial portion of the population in disagreement with those that believe addiction to be an illness. In the days when addiction was viewed as a moral failing, those who suffered from addiction were victims of severe shaming, the punitive system, and of calls for these individuals to gain more self-control.

When Alcoholics Anonymous was developed, more and more addicts became able to overcome chemical dependency on their own with only the twelve-step method to guide them. However, twelve-step groups also popularized the notion of addiction being a disease, which resulted in a growing shift from shaming to sympathizing with addicts.

Those who oppose this view of addiction as a disease often feel that stripping addicts of their accountability and the role that their personal choices and behavior played in the development of addiction is counterproductive to the recovery process. Moreover, opponents of the disease model of addiction also feel that the disease model skirts around the fact that even those who are biologically or genetically more susceptible to addiction would be unable to become addicted if they make different choices, choosing not to abuse mind-altering substances instead of choosing to abuse them.

Drug Addiction as a Behavioral Disorder

Though young when compared to many other sciences, the field of psychology has come a long way in enhancing our understanding of our own underlying mental and emotional processes. What at times were explained by things like demonic possession or being a vessel of a higher power are now known as conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. In fact, there’s not much about the human condition that psychology isn’t able to explain to one extent or another, which is why there’s growing support for the concept of addiction being a behavioral disorder.

A psychological conception of addiction actually makes a lot of sense when one considers that addiction is often alternately referred to as substance abuse disorder, impulse control disorder, and often compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As such, the idea of addiction being a psychological or behavioral disorder owes to addicts’ tendency to indulge in substance abuse due to their persistent, all-consuming compulsions, making resistance futile at best. With addiction owing its existence to one’s behavior, this is a very convincing and reasonable explanation.

When countering the disease model, believers of this “psychological model” tend to highlight the differences between addiction and conventional diseases that are contracted, treated, and either cured or managed for the rest of an individual’s life, which sounds a bit different than one would expect of a disease. However, the problem with this argument is that it overlooks how an individual becomes an addict, which involves a period of development that is dependent largely on one’s lifestyle and choices in much the same way as forms of diabetes.

Understanding the Disease Model of Addiction

The most widely accepted explanation for the development and causes of addiction today is what’s referred to as the disease model of addiction. In this model, addiction to alcohol and drugs is characterized as a chronic, progressive brain disease that causes individuals to be obsessively fixated on the seeking and consumption of their substances of choice. According to the disease model, individuals can be biologically or genetically susceptible to addiction while also developing it due to factors related to development—or one’s behavior and personal choice—and environment.

Although some might say that the disease model protects addicts from being held responsible for their addictions, the disease model simply emphasizes that the disease can occur due to a variety of factors and, due to its chronic nature, isn’t something of which an individual can be completely cured. Instead, individuals who develop the disease of addiction will require ongoing maintenance treatment in order to manage the condition, which will allow them to keep it in a state that’s comparable to the remission of other diseases.

Perhaps most importantly, the disease model of addiction highlights some of the physiological and neurological effects that addiction has on the brain, allowing for the development of treatments and programs that can address these very specific effects that are central to physical dependency.

Are You Done Suffering? Call Drug Treatment Center Finder Today

There are many different perspectives of addiction. While none of them are completely wrong, it’s important to remember that addiction causes a variety of effects, including physical, mental and emotional, social, and even spiritual. As such, the treatment of addiction requires an approach that takes into account these very different yet complementary components by helping individuals to achieve a state of recovery that addresses the varied effects of the disease and is, consequently, comprehensive.

If you or someone you love is suffering from chemical dependency and would like to end your suffering, Drug Treatment Center Finder can put you on the path toward a happier, healthier life. Call now to speak with one of our recovery specialists who offers free consultations and assessments, matching those in need with the programs that will allow them to achieve lasting sobriety.