The Theory of Addiction as a Disease

Drug addiction as a disease is a topic of much debate and controversy. Many people believe that it is a disorder much like diabetes and high blood pressure. Others believe that it is just a state of mind. The prevailing theory is that addiction is in fact a disease. In order to understand the theory of addiction being a disease you have to understand the basics of addiction. This includes what addiction is, why it is considered a disease, the problems with the theory, and the competing theories.

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What is Addiction?

disease theory of addiction

If addiction is a disease it should be treated as such.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a persistent relapsing brain disorder, which is similar to many other chronic conditions. It causes compulsive drug seeking behavior despite emotional, physical, and financial consequences of doing so. Most psychologists believe that there are two reasons why people start taking a drug.

The first reason is obvious. The addiction starts by a user wanting to get a high. The euphoria, calm state of mind, and peace that many drugs give are extremely attractive to some people. This attraction becomes an issue when the same amount of a drug does not produce the same high.

The other reason is a bit more complex. The addiction starts when a doctor uses an addictive drug to treat an illness. The addict uses the drug as prescribe at first but then develops a tolerance. The tolerance requires more of the drug.

If a doctor does not handle the tolerance, either by prescribing more of the medication or by changing medications to something else, the addict will start to use drug-seeking behavior to keep from going into withdrawal or to keep a condition such as chronic pain or anxiety at bay.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction is a bit more complex. Scientists do not really understand why certain behaviors, actions, or tasks become addictive. Most of them give the addict some form of pleasure or rush. A few examples of these types of addiction are:

  • gambling
  • sex
  • theft
  • exercise
  • food
  • overeating
  • video games
  • love
  • pornography

All of these give a pleasurable reward. It is possible that people who suffer from a behavioral addiction are actually addicted to the endorphin and dopamine rush that these activities provide. Unfortunately, doctors and scientists do not know how this works exactly. Most behavioral addictions develop overtime.

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Why Consider Addiction a Disease?

Many believe that addiction is a disease because it mirrors a lot of the characteristics of a disease. Several factors in addiction are similar to disease. These are:

  • genetic contributions – usually one of your parents or grandparents suffer from addiction you are at a greater risk.
  • environmental contributions – some environmental issues such as sexual abuse, violence, peers, and availability all contribute to addiction.
  • lifestyle – those who engage in a healthy lifestyle are less likely to be addicts.
  • relapse rate – recent studies show that relapse rate of addiction are similar to those in other diseases.

Addiction also makes physical changes to the brain. These changes are said to be another indicator that addiction is a disease.

The Problem with Addiction as a Disease

Some argue that a major problem with the addiction disease theory is that it does not resemble many diseases. It has:

  • no cause other than choice
  • no infection starts it
  • it is not a biological process
  • nor is it cause the body to degenerate biologically

Most if not all diseases, have at least one of these commonalities. When looking at addiction as a disease how addiction starts becomes an important factor as does the definition of a disease. Because scientists have a difficult time defining both addiction and disease, it is difficult to prove or disprove the theory of addiction as a disease.

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Other Theories of Addiction

Like any theory, the theory that addiction is a disease has its problems. Some doctors and scientists have a few other theories about what addiction is. These theories are:

  • matter of choice – there are those in the scientific community that believe that addiction is strictly a matter of choice. Although people do not technically choose to become addicted, they do choose to start using the drug.
  • self medication – this is a fuzzier theory. The lines of what is an addiction are blurry to begin with and with the fact that addiction often occurs when someone is suffering from another disorder, it is difficult to define it exactly. Both doctors and scientist often believe that addiction is a form of self-medication.

Because addition is so hard to define it is not unusual that other theories exist. Although the most accepted theory is that addiction is a disease, the other theories also have merit.

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Disease, Social, and Mental Illness

According to the National Library of Medicine, there is a biopsychosocial theory as well. This theory combines all three of the most popular theories into one. It looks at addiction from all aspects rather than just the biological or social portions of it. When examining addiction, scientists noticed that it is multidimensional. It could be that there is no one explanation for addiction but like treatment, it is not one size fits all.

Substance abuse is difficult regardless of why it happens. No matter if, the cause is disease, environmental issue, or a psychological and situational problem, addiction needs treatment. Most people who suffer from addiction need help and support to overcome it. Fortunately, there are doctors, clinicians, and therapists that are skilled in helping you solve the problems of addiction.

the Take-Away

There is a major debate as to whether addiction should be considered a disease or not. Those who believe it is a disease believe that it happens in the brain and should be treated like any other chronic condition.