What if I told you that I didn’t think that addiction was a disease? Would you think that I was crazy or uninformed? If so, maybe I can change your mind. I believe that there are people on both sides of the fence that benefit from addiction being classified as a disease, both those who suffer from addiction and those who do not. Let me explain…
“Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risks factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction. Addiction involves changes in the functioning of the brain and body. These changes may be brought on by risky substance use or may pre-exist.” (Addiction as a Disease 2016). These are some very strong words and may prove to be quite convincing. When something is classified as a disease, it is owned by the medical profession, by doctor’s, psychologists and drug companies. If addiction is a disease, then it would be a disease like diabetes and cancer, one where there can be no permanent cure, because relapse could happen at any time. It would be a disease that is managed, with medication and psychiatric care.
Classifying addiction as a disease is beneficial to the person who is addicted, in a way it lets them off the hook for their addiction. A person addicted can now say, “hey, addiction isn’t my fault, I have a disease. Blame big pharma, it’s all their fault for creating the drug I abuse”. This is exactly where we are today, people blaming drug companies for creating medicines that have a legitimate use but are abused by some. The addict is let off the hook at every turn and is not held accountable for their part in the equation.
Society benefits from having addiction classified as a disease as well. You see, by classifying addiction as a disease, parents of addicts can remain in relationship with their children blaming the disease rather than the child. Social programs can be created to fight the disease, rather than to hold the addict responsible for their behaviors. Addiction as a disease creates an abstraction so that it is a disease that is being targeted and not the actions of individuals.
The lines are blurred daily regarding addiction as a disease. When the news comes across a story where a child is put in harm’s way because the parents are on drugs, it is totally the parent’s fault, but when a story is presented where a person is down and out because or an addiction, it is the addiction that is vilified.
What if addiction is not a disease, but a choice. Yes, it is true that the body becomes used to having certain chemicals in the system in order for things to function properly and this is the physical effects of addiction, but once the drug is out of the system, the body can once again function properly. This process is called detox and it required by anyone who has taken a substance for an extended period of time. This is no different than someone who has used caffeine for a long period of time when they go off of caffeine, they suffer from headaches and other physical symptoms. Once that phase passes, it is as if they never consumed caffeine at all. It is the same for other substances as well, once a person is weaned off of opioids, the body begins the process of repairing and restoring processes that were interrupted in the presence of the drug. Once the physical desire for the drug is concurred, the only thing left is the individual’s choice to go back to the drug. This is not the case with something like diabetes or cancer, a person’s actions cannot affect the symptoms of the disease.
Addiction is a disease today because it makes it more palatable to society and to the medical profession. We live in a time where personal accountability is waning and blame should be placed on something other than individuals. This epidemic will continue until we are willing to throw away the moniker of disease and to treat individuals as responsible for their choices. If we choose to ignore this call, there will be generations of people who will suffer because of it.
Guest writer and “Hope for Addiction” group leader
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