It’s Not “Just an Excuse”
Let’s be clear. Referring to addiction as a disease is not a means of excusing the behavior of an addict. Instead, an understanding of the disease model can provide us with valuable information that changes the way we relate to the addict.
The disease model of addiction is backed by multiple rigorous scientific studies that show how substance abuse disrupts brain regions that regulate reward, learning and self-control, among other functions. As a result of active addiction, these persistent changes in the brain prohibit the addict from simply conjuring “willpower” to stop using and change their lifestyle.
Today, most medical associations define addiction as a disease. A few examples include:
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which states that neuroscience supports the brain disease model of addiction.
- The American Medical Association, which officially began referring to addiction as a disease in1987.
- The American Society of Addiction Medicine, which defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”
It’s Not About a “Drug of Choice”
When we look at addiction as a disease, we do not focus on a single drug or alcohol as the problem. Taking the substance away does not solve the problem. If an addict’s “drug of choice” is taken away, they may substitute another substance or a behavior in an attempt to increase the depleted dopamine level.
Addiction is a medical disease, but just like diabetes or cancer, it is treatable. With dedication, support and—when necessary—professional intervention, addiction can be managed so that an individual can live a full, happy life in recovery. This list of resources curated by Hope Valley Recovery includes some of the many ways to seek help for addiction.
Author: Amy Glinn, MSW, LSW, LICDC-CS.