There is still a debate out there as to whether or not addiction should be considered a disease or a sort of mental disorder of the weak willed. It seems that these two schools of thought will never find common ground on what truly causes addiction.
I have been on both sides of the fence. At one time, I didn’t want to believe that it was a disease. I wanted to think that possibly this was something that I brought on myself from lack of will power or self discipline and that possibly, since this wasn’t a disease, I would be able to go back to using “every once in a while”.
Now however, after a lot of reading up on the subject, I can accept the fact that addiction is a disease which was with me far before ever drinking my first beer or taking my first pill. Something causes my mind to work in an addictive thinking pattern and it is that addictive thinking pattern which is truly the disease.
It is easy to lose sight of why and how I got into this situation though. It often leaves me pondering that old addiction recovery question: Am I a bad person trying to become good or am I a sick person trying to become well?
I guess this post is a way of reminding myself and other recovering addicts out there that we did not get to this point in our lives because we are bad people. We may have (ok, definitely have) done some bad things in our time but that doesn’t mean that we are truly bad people.
First off, we do crappy things some times because we are human. We are not perfect as perfection is not possible in humans. Secondly, most of the shady things from our past were done to serve one purpose…feeding our addiction. These reasons in no way excuses our bad behavior but it can just give us a sense that there were reasons behind our actions that DO NOT include us being bad people.
Addiction As A Disease
As long as there are people who consider addiction to be a disease, there will no doubt be people who disagree with that explanation. Each side has their own reasoning. I just wanted to lay out some of the thoughts on why addiction should be considered a disease:
- There are patterns and symptoms which are very similar in addiction no matter what the addiction is to
- Addiction is never cured, although it is treatable
- Addiction is progressive like a terminal disease. If left without treatment, it gets worse and worse and can lead to death
- If treatment is not diligently sought out, relapse is a very good possibility
I think that if you were talking about any other sickness and used the points above to describe it, no one would argue the fact that you were talking about a disease.
Addiction As A State Of Mind
Just as there are two sides to every coin, there is the other side of the addiction as a disease argument to consider. I can honestly say that just reading some of the stuff out there that shares the view of addiction not being a disease has gotten me pretty fired up.
- How many people that have never decided to drink have ever caught the disease of addiction?
- Addiction is not defined by the traditional definition of disease because the addict can reasonably choose not to drink or do drugs
- The disease theory supplies the addict with an easy out from taking any responsibility for their actions
- Once the “disease” of addiction has been diagnosed, theoretically the addict has lost the power of choosing whether or not to drink or do drugs
See what I mean about getting fired up? I guess one of the major points that people on this side of the argument have missed is addicts realize they have a choice once they have begun their recovery. Addicts can choose not to have that first drink or drug. They key words in that sentence was “that first drink or drug”. After the first one, the choice is no longer theirs. It becomes a compulsion.
Basically it seems that if you agree with this second school of thought then addiction recovery would be about a bad person trying to become good. Why would a good person allow drugs or alcohol to rule their life? Why would a good person lie and cheat just to get their next high? They wouldn’t. And if addiction isn’t a disease, these things are not done because the addict is sick…it’s because they are bad.
I classify myself as a sick person trying to become well. I don’t use the definition of addiction as a disease to shirk the responsibility of my actions. It is part of my acceptance and part of my recovery.