Why Addiction Is A Disease
June 26, 2020
Addiction is not a crime, and it’s not a weakness: addiction is a disease.
Unfortunately, the close relationship between drugs and crime means that society typically perceives the drug addict as a criminal and believes someone takes drugs because they are immoral.
Why should we be so concerned about addiction, though?
Well, while we might still hear of people contracting COVID 19 worldwide, there’s no shortage of Americans dying from drug overdoses every day. The opioid crisis remains the real crisis.
Sadly, Kentucky has not escaped from this crisis. From 2000 to 2014 Kentucky’s rate of drug overdose rose to 24 deaths per 100,000 people. The national average is 15 deaths per 100,000 people.
First responders and law enforcement handle a production line of people dying from opioid overdose to a point where it’s stretching emergency medical services to bursting point.
With the cost of addiction and its impact on society enormous, it pays to educate yourself on all facets of addiction even if you’re not currently dependent on any substances.
Before we go any further, we need to define what constitutes a disease.
WHAT IS A DISEASE?
The American Medical Association classifies a disease as a condition that presents as a dysfunction in the body with consistent signs and symptoms that causes harm to the body.
A broader definition clarifies that disease is not simply a result of physical injury.
The scientific and medical communities agree almost unanimously that addiction, or substance use disorder, is a disease and must be treated like one.
Addiction is a condition that impairs normal cognition and distorts thought processes. In fact, people who struggle with severe substance use disorder are so cognitively impaired that they do things that put their lives at risk just to feed their habit.
Some argue that addiction is not a disease because you can choose whether to take a drug or not. Choice is certainly a factor, but the issue is far more complex.
Traditionally, substance use disorder would lead someone on a path to incarceration. With the opioid and substance abuse crisis still spinning out of control, it’s become apparent that the country cannot arrest its way out of this crisis.
Addiction is now increasingly viewed as a medical issue, which it is. Substance use disorder is a chronic medical issue, and getting on top of the crisis means treating it as a disease.
GETTING TO THE ROOT CAUSE OF ADDICTION
Addiction is a disease of the reward circuit of the brain. People who are addicted to something receive a heightened reward response to that substance.
Addiction is a complicated disease. It takes more than just willpower to overcome a substance use disorder. Genetics plays a role as do mental health disorders and the effects of adverse childhood experiences.
Recovering from a substance use disorder isn’t simply a case of deciding to stop using drugs or alcohol. You need to unravel the root causes of negative thought patterns that could trigger you to discontinue recovery and relapse.
A person in recovery has to learn to navigate their emotions and outwit the tricks their addicted brain plays on them. It’s like a game with a clever opponent who knows your weaknesses and determines to outwit you. You have to learn their tactics while building energy and remaining vigilant.
For some, the reward system of the brain can make them perceive the temporary emotional and psychological reward of the substance as greater than the long-term reward of staying clean. They may think, “I can have just one”, but every addicted person knows that one leads to relapse.
This is the sad nature of addiction so what can we do about it?
RECOVERING FROM THE DISEASE
Many people are born with a propensity to become addicted to substances. This is due to the primitive reward circuitry in the brain. Some people are genetically wired to receive higher rewards to certain substances than others. This partially explains why it’s easy for some to give up smoking while seemingly impossible for others.
The best way to heal addiction today is to use a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), cognitive behavioral therapy, and support from peer groups.
In November 2019, Senators Maggie Hassan and Susan Collins introduced the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019. The aim is to fill the shortage of trained addiction doctors and treatment facilities in order to reduce the number of people suffering from substance use disorder.
23.5 million people aged over 12 had a substance use disorder in 2009. Of these, only 11.2% received professional treatment.
This means that around 90% of people with a substance use disorder continue to use drugs and/or alcohol rather than try to overcome their addiction.
The Opioid Workforce Act aims to make available treatment for substance use disorders to anyone in need.
BARRIERS TO TREATMENT
Sadly, as addiction is often so closely related to crime, people are afraid to seek treatment because of the stigma. If the perception of addiction could shift to a more rehabilitative approach, people would be more likely to reach out for help and start their healing journey.
Many people are thrown into jail, detox, and are then released, only to get straight back on drugs at the first opportunity. Recovery doesn’t end with detox: this is just the first tentative step to ongoing recovery.
Substance use disorder is a chronic, lifelong illness that must be managed and closely monitored by the person struggling themselves, their loved ones, and their healthcare providers. This requires an environment that fosters honesty and openness.
Peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are proven to help people stick to a successful recovery. When people can talk openly and freely, and feel supported in their recovery, it strengthens their resolve to stay clean.
A positive mindset is absolutely vital, too. Negativity from stigma and judgment is not helpful to anyone experiencing a mental health disorder of any kind. Showing kindness, compassion, and empathy to someone experiencing mental distress can mean the difference between relapse and recovery.
Addiction now affects the whole community. It’s no longer something that happens to someone else. This is why attitudes must continue changing if we want to see our communities heal from this epidemic.
Hopefully, in the future, everyone with a substance use disorder will be able to gain access to quality affordable treatment so they can live productive and happy lives. That’s not too much to ask but we have a long way to go.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Here at Landmark Recovery, we appreciate that addiction is a disease and we’re here to help you to achieve long-term recovery.