Is Addiction a Disease?
Disease Model Argument
Addiction is defined as a disease. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, "A treatable, chronic, medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment and an individual's life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences." If we break apart this definition, we are able to identify that addiction is known as a medical disease and we can identify that the factors that impact this disease are genetics, environment and life circumstances.
Addiction can be passed through genetics similar to diabetes or cancer, it could be apart of our genetic make up and brain circuits without us even knowing that it is there. For example, maybe we never make the choice to use a highly addictive substance but our addictive personality comes out in our finances by obsessing about spending or saving money.
Environment illustrates that addiction can be influenced by an individual's surroundings like their community, their family and their school. For example, a child growing up in a family witnessing substance use is more likely to make the choice to use substances.
The life experiences piece of the definition pretty much speaks for itself. If a person experiences adverse childhood experiences like childhood trauma, they are more likely to use substances. If a person is living in poverty, they are more likely to use substances.
Moral Deficiency Argument
Society continues to place a stigma on addiction despite the scientific evidence. The argument against the disease model is that an individual choosing to use substances always has a choice to not use substances. Both arguments are valid.
An individual always has a choice whether or not to use substances, however the disease model is simply stating that people who have these factors are more likely to become addicted and are more likely to struggle with addiction after making the choice to use a substance.
This is why some people can drink alcohol occasionally and others cannot.
Addiction versus Alcoholism
Addiction and Alcoholism have similarities and differences. They both have arguments classifying them as diseases. They are both associated with obsession, compulsion, withdrawal symptoms and they both are subjected to a similar type of negative stigma in society. However, alcoholism appears to be much more socially acceptable when compared to using substances. Alcohol is legal and is widely available throughout liquor stores, grocery stores, restaurants and bars while substances might be a bit more hidden coming from only prescriptions or drug-dealers on the street. Therefore, people that frequently consume alcohol are less likely to identify if they have a problem and are less likely to seek help if they feel like they do have a problem. These people often live very successful, high functioning lives. They hit every social milestone, they graduate college, get married, have children, build successful careers all while suffering in silence.
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Does Binge Drinking Mean I Have an Addiction?
Binge Drinking does not equal addiction. However, individuals who engage in binge drinking are more likely to suffer negative consequences as a result of alcohol and for that reason are more likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
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Addiction Without Substances
The disease of addiction is typically associated with substances, however some addictions have nothing to do with using substances.
Addiction can be any behavior that an individual continues to engage in despite negative consequences.
When a behavior causes a release a dopamine in our brain, we will most likely feel enjoyment and will most likely want to continue to engage in that behavior. The most common behaviors known to release dopamine are engaging in intercourse, spending time gambling and/or eating our favorite foods. When we continue to engage in these behaviors despite negative consequences, we risk becoming addicted to them. This might look like continuing to be unfaithful in relationships, continuing to pile up credit card debt and/or continuing to overindulge in food.
When a person makes a decision to engage in a feel-good behavior or makes a decision to use a substance, they risk the possibility of becoming addicted based on the factors outlined in the ASAMS definition, their genetic make up, environment and life experiences.
Resources For Addiction
Addiction Treatment in South Jersey
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm an addictions therapist helping individuals recover from addiction in the state of New Jersey. If you are interested in addiction therapy and would like to schedule a free consultation, e-mail me today!