Is Addiction A Disease?

Explains the three barriers to successful drug addiction treatment.Whether a person is genetically or biochemically predisposed to addiction or alcoholism is a controversy that has been debated for years within the scientific, medical and chemical dependency communities. One school of thought advocates the "disease concept" which embraces the notion that addiction is an inherited disease, and that the individual is chronically ill at a genetic level, even those who experience long periods of sobriety.

Another philosophy argues that addiction is a dual problem composed of a physical and mental dependency on chemicals, compounded by a pre-existing mental disorder (i.e., clinical depression, bipolar disorder or some other mental illness) and that the mental disorder needs to be treated as the primary cause of the addiction.

 A third philosophy subscribes to the idea that chemical dependency leads to permanent chemical imbalances in the brain that must be treated with psychotropic medications (drugs that act on the mind, altering mood or behavior) and sometimes antipsychotic medications after the person withdraws from the drug to which they are addicted. 

While it is true that there is some scientific research that supports each of these concepts, it is also true that none of these theories are absolute. A review of national averages shows that addiction rehabilitation treatment programs based on these theories result in recovery rates of just 16% to 20%. There is a fourth school of thought that has proven to be more accurate. To understand this way of thinking, it is necessary to understand the life cycle of addiction.

This data is universally applicable to addiction, no matter which theory is used to explain the phenomenon of chemical dependency. The life cycle of addiction begins with a problem, discomfort or some form of emotional or physical pain for a person. This person is, like most people in our society, basically good. But he encounters a problem that is causing him physical or emotional pain and discomfort and for which he does not have an immediate answer. Perhaps, as a child or teenager, he has difficulty "fitting in."

Or maybe there are physical injuries such as a broken bone, a bad back or some other chronic physical condition, or the person has suffered losses in life.

Whatever the origin of the difficulty, the discomfort associated with it presents the individual with a real problem. He feels that his problem is major, persistent and without solution or relief. Most of us have experienced this type of problem in our lives to a greater or lesser degree. So for these reasons, some people, young or old, male or female, high income or low, begin to use alcohol or drugs that have the potential to be addictive. Peer pressure

Once the person takes the drug, he feels relief from the discomfort. Even though the relief is only temporary, the drug is adopted as a solution to the problem and therefore, the individual places value on the drug or drink. This assigned value is the only reason the person ever uses drugs or drinks alcohol a second, third or more times.

There are a couple of key factors involved in this life cycle that determines which ones of us become addicts and which ones do not. The first factor is peer pressure. If, at the time of this discomfort, a person is subjected to pro-drug or pro-alcohol influences through some sort of significant peer pressure, that influence can affect his decision-making with regard to finding relief from this discomfort.

Peer pressure manifests itself in many different ways. It can come from friends or family or through some channel of advertising. Peer pressure combined with relief of the discomfort or problem can determine the severity of drug use.

Second, the person felt bad in some way before he used drugs or alcohol and he feels better afterward. That relief has value.

Simply put, the bigger the problem, the greater the discomfort the person will experience. The greater the discomfort, the more importance the person places on relieving it and the greater the value he assigns to that which brings about the relief.

The Downward Spiral of Addiction

Those who start down the path of addiction begin to accumulate so much damage to their physical and mental selves and their lives that the quality of their lives in general deteriorates. If drug or alcohol abuse continues unchecked, eventually the person is faced with so many unpleasant circumstances that each sober moment is filled with despair and misery. All this person now wants to do is escape these feelings by medicating them away. This is the downward spiral of addiction.

For most addicts, there are only three possible outcomes: sobriety, prison or death.



The First Barrier To Recovery - Cravings

The Second Barrier To Successful Recovery - Depression
The Third Barrier To Successful Recovery - Guilt