The simplest definition of addiction is this: “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance or behavior that is independent of withdrawal.” It’s often described as a “medical disorder that affects the brain and changes behavior.” And we know, of course, that certain substances such as alcohol, prescription medication, illicit drugs, and the odd over-the-counter medicines can influence the development of an addiction. Compulsive sex, gambling, gaming, spending, and eating can fall into the category of addiction as well.
The disease model
Dictionary definitions aside, addiction is often misunderstood to some degree. Furthermore, different organizations and individuals have their own varied “definitions” of addiction. Those who subscribe to the disease model frequently describe it as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.
The reason it’s considered a disease by some groups is primarily that it changes how the brain responds where rewards (dopamine), stress, and self-control are concerned. As the brain changes, individuals are essentially forced into a position where they crave the substance or behavior until it becomes an unconscious act as opposed to a conscious choice. And these brain changes can persist long after an individual puts down the substance or stops the behavior. And, where substances are concerned, dependence can become so severe that withdrawing from the substance can have physical consequences that are potentially fatal.
Criticism of the disease model
Despite overwhelming evidence that addiction is a disease of the brain, there are still a handful of critics out there who dismiss the disease model. The argument is that addiction is not transmittable, contagious, hereditary, or degenerative. Moreover, it’s self-acquired, meaning the addicted person gives the condition to himself or herself according to the critics in this group.
While certain aspects of this point of view are difficult to refute, addiction is hardly black and white. While most addicted individuals weren’t forced to begin abusing substances in the first place, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone would willingly ruin his or her health, reputation, career, and relationships. If overcoming addiction was as simple as making the choice to stop, addiction would be much easier to address and relapse wouldn’t be as common as it is.
Addiction is not a moral failing
Fortunately, the more common and universally accepted view of addiction now is that it is not, in fact, a choice. Very few nationally recognized substance abuse-focused organizations view addiction as a moral failing, as this idea is considered generally outdated.
Regardless of how addiction is defined, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t a problem that affects millions of people worldwide. And, while addiction may begin as a personal choice for most of us, in and of itself it is still a mental “dis-ease” as opposed to a continued personal choice.
That said, we can and do recover from addiction. And, while we can never be 100% “cured” of addiction, we can successfully manage it by empowering ourselves with the right tools. Lucky for us, there are millions of people in recovery all over the world, so we never have to walk the path alone.
Kembali Recovery Center can Help
Kembali Recovery Center is here for anyone who’s struggling with addiction. Contact us today to learn about our programs of recovery. You never have to do this alone.