Is Addiction Really a Disease? 

is addiction really a disease

A hotly debated topic that has surfaced recently revolves around the question: “Is addiction really a disease?” To many, this conversation is of utmost importance. These individuals insist that addiction is a certifiable disease, upheld by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) definition of “substance abuse disorder”. 

However, to some, the idea of calling addiction a disease comes off as enabling to the user. They would insist that addiction cannot be a disease, but is a more of a moral choice, and believe this new definition of addiction is enabling addicts to continue using.

We at Coastal Detox uphold and affirm that addiction is in fact a disease. However, this statement does not mean we are enabling individuals to continue using, or rule out the power of an individual’s choices affecting their life.

Below, we will try to clarify some things revolving around this topic of whether or not addiction is truly a disease.

Defining Disease 

The definition of disease is as follows: “A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.” In this way, addiction is certainly considered a disease. In fact, the surgeon general recently declared addiction to be a disease.

The fact is that addiction changes the structure of the brain and thus, it can be classified as a disorder. Along with this, prolonged usage of alcohol or drugs affects the memory, motivation, and reward centers of the brain. This is relevant information because these brain changes: 

  • Meet the criteria ofthe disease definition
  • Are not related to any brain injury
  • Suggest that the individual is not just “choosing” to be an addict

All of this points to addiction as a disease rather than simply a choice of free will, although the addiction may begin as a choice of free will at first. But once the drugs have changed physical brain structures, the person is an addict, and the addiction is no longer a choice, but a disorder.

Why the Disease Model Isn’t Black and White 

Although we do agree that addiction is a disease, there is also no such thing as black and white when it comes to addiction. Some individuals will claim that viewing addiction as a disease enables addicts to continue using. However, the opposite is true if addiction is truly a disease.

Think of someone with type two diabetes. This is no doubt a serious disease, yet it is one that has been caused by an individual’s actions over time. Although this diagnosis is the result of prolonged lifestyle choices, the general public accepts it as a disease just the same. And this by no means enables diabetics to continually indulge in sugary sweets.

On the contrary, the disease model of addiction encourages individuals to seek help rather than shaming them for poor moral judgement. A cancer patient goes to the hospital for help, so too an addict will go to rehab for treatment.

Viewing addiction as a disease also removes much of the feelings of guilt, isolation, and shame often experienced by struggling addicts (all of which are triggers for continued use, by the way). Thus, it can be said that addiction is a disease affected by a poor lifestyle.

While saying no to the substance might not be a black and white choice, going to rehab to get started on your recovery certainly is. Getting help is a choice that must be made if addiction is truly a disease.

Get Help Today 

We at Coastal Detox want to help you in any way that we can. We want to walk this journey with you and assure you that you are not alone. If you or someone you know are struggling with an addiction, please contact us today.

Give us a call at (877) 406-6623 to connect with a specialist who will listen to your specific concerns. Even if you just need to talk, reach out today. You owe it to yourself to take your life back. Start your journey to sobriety today.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.