Is Addiction Really A Disease?


According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction is a complex condition; a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance abuse in the face of harmful consequences. People with addictions have an intense focus on using certain substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to the point at which it takes over their lives. Put simply, people with addictions continue to use alcohol or drugs, even when they know it will cause them problems.


In 2014, an estimated 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and above, were diagnosed as having significant alcohol or drug problems.


Addiction is a disease caused by drug use, which alters the brain and creates compulsive urges which can no longer be controlled by the user. In other words, the addict has no choice, and their behaviour becomes resistant to long-term change.


There are several pervasive cultural stereotypes about socioeconomic status and addiction. One stereotype is that drug and alcohol addiction primarily affect the poor, who use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the stress of poverty.


Another stereotype is that drug and alcohol abuse are moral failings that create an underclass of impoverished, chronically unemployed individuals who have little hope of ever rising above their unfortunate circumstances. In reality, addiction crosses the boundaries of wealth and social status, affecting people from all socioeconomic groups.


While most people are familiar with substance addiction, research shows that it is also possible for a person to develop a behavioural addiction. In fact, substitute the word “behaviour” for “substance,” and you open up the definition of addiction to all kinds of dependencies, some of which may surprise you. Whether it’s sex, the Internet, or shopping, the desire to experience a “high” can become so intense that the so-called addict loses control and is compelled to follow their addiction despite potential negative consequences.


The crux of the matter is that addiction touches so many elements of human existence that trying to force a connection to a physical system ignores some of the other, uncomfortable realities of what drugs and alcohol can do to a person. If addiction is to be considered a disease, then it has to be thought of as “a disease of the whole person,” because the very nature of addiction is based on actions and desires, emotions and relationships.


“No matter what the addiction, when you ask people what they are getting from it, they tend to repeat the same things over and over again: “I get distraction from stress. I get comfort. I get a sense of power. I get companionship. I get a warm feeling inside. I get peace of mind.”


“Temporarily, of course. It’s the nature of addiction that it gives these things temporarily and then causes negative consequences. Whether it’s the sex addict looking for love or the food addict looking to ease emotional discomfort or the opioid addict looking for emotional pain relief, these are all human qualities that we all want. This wanting of love or emotional relief or connection or stress relief are what we all ultimately want. They are all human qualities that are universally desired, and this is why addiction is a very human activity.” Says Dr Gabor Maté.


Deep emotional pain and childhood traumas are usually the core reasons for addiction. However, when this is coupled with a troubled society where disconnection, isolation, and increasing amounts of stress have become commonplace, addiction looks more like a symptom of a very stressed society seeking to escape from life’s harsh realities.


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