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Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

March 2, 2017 - - 0 Comments

 Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?Unless you are an addict yourself, or the close friend or family member of one, you cannot begin to comprehend how powerful and devastating the addiction can be.  Many of those unfamiliar with addiction simply write off how serious they can be because they don’t understand its nature.  Addiction is illogical – why would any normal person do the same thing over and over when it causes so many problems?  So it only makes sense that it is perceived to be a choice by those same people.  If you don’t want to be addicted anymore, just stop.  Right?

Wrong.  There is a growing amount of evidence that addiction is a brain disease.  Side by side brain scans of an addict’s brain and a normal person’s brain look drastically different.  The structure of the brain has changed, and the brain has become rewired with the illness intact.

Other studies shows that addiction is 50 percent due to genetic predisposition.  In one study, 861 identical twins and 653 fraternal twins were sampled.  When one identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the probability that the other was also addicted was high.  However, in the fraternal twins, the possibility of the other having an addiction was significantly lower.  In other studies, children of addicts are 8 times more likely to become addicts themselves. If you are so motivated, you can visit a drug addiction treatment center who can provide you with more information, as this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite these studies, there are still 2 groups of people that think that addiction is a disease, while others don’t.  Most doctors today believe that it is, as specific changes occur within the brain.  Once the changes take place, totally free choice no longer exists and you could likely be medically diagnosed as an addict.

What Are the Arguments for why Addiction isn’t a Disease?

Many of us have heard it before.  If you are an addict, you are a degenerate, probably lazy, and couldn’t care less.  And because drinking and drugging is an actual physical behavior as opposed to diseases like cancer that are beyond your control, it is labeled a choice.  Don’t expect to hear this approach at any drug addiction treatment center, though.  A close up look at addiction for those working with addicts can tell you how little of a choice it seems they have.

For those that believe that addiction is a disease, much of the basis for this belief comes from the idea that the brain has fundamentally changed and that it now has become much more difficult for a person to stop using as a result of those changes.

However, some who believe it is a choice adopt the same theory, but backwards.  It is your behavior that changes the way your brain works, so by changing your behavior, you change your “condition.”

There is actually a small about of truth to this. When addicts get clean and stay sober for an extended period of time, their brain starts to repair itself, which can be seen in brain scans.  However, it will never return to its original state, revealing that a true physical change has taken place, for which there is no return from.  

A Realistic Approach

Since we know that genetics is a factor in addiction, let’s take a look at 2 people.  Both are the same age, use the same exact amount of drugs or alcohol, and do the exact same things.  While the person without the genetic predisposition will likely be able to stop when they want, the person with it will likely be taken ahold of and feel compelled to keep going, without understanding why.  That’s why it is a disease. They both did the same exacts things, but with different outcomes, despite the same intentions.
Calling it is a disease is not the be all end all though.  There is most definitely merit in changing your behaviors, which an addict can learn to do at treatment centers for drug addiction. The compulsion makes changing your behavior more difficult change, but with practice, lasting sobriety can be achieved.

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