Usually when we hear the word disease we think of something like cancer or diabetes. Alcoholism or addiction is not something most people think of as a disease. When they hear it called a disease it sounds confusing and even kind of annoying. After all, to drink or get high or play video games or have sex is a choice right? People with a real disease don’t have a choice. At least that is the logic.
There is a lot of evidence to show that addiction, in all it’s forms, is more than psychological – it is more than a choice. Scientists have found real physiological evidence to support that addiction is not just a choice. Some people are more prone to becoming addicts than others. It is the same with many other diseases. For example, if you have heart disease or diabetes in your family your chances of also getting it greatly increases. In the same way, if you have alcoholism or addiction in your family, your chances of becoming an alcoholic or addict greatly increase.
My point in this article is not to go into all the scientific evidence to prove that addiction is actually a disease. My point is to help you think of addiction differently. If we see addiction for what it really is, more than just a choice, I believe we will have compassion on the individual and then be able to help treat them. A correct diagnosis is the basis on which treatment can begin.
Personally, I don’t know if labeling addiction as a disease is really helpful. In some ways I think it brings the wrong things into focus. Instead of discussing how to help the suffering addict and the loved ones he or she is affecting, we enter a debate on the definition of disease. The point is not whether or not addiction fits into our classical definition of disease, the point is that the addict no longer has a choice, they need treatment and without it they will die.
You may still be saying, “Yes but to get better all they have to do is make the decision to stop.” The hard part about that statement is that in a way it is absolutely correct. The problem is they can’t stop. They don’t have the ability to make that decision. Even if they did make the decision they are powerless to act on it. The addiction is stronger than any decision. Ask yourself this: isn’t the addict in your life the most miserable person you know? Don’t you think that if they had the ability to change their life by simply making a decision to stop that they would? So if they can’t stop on their own then what is the answer?
The answer is they need treatment. The disease needs to be interrupted. The interruption needs to be dramatic and powerful yet laced with love and compassion. And the only way this can happen is if it is guided by a professional. Please don’t read the information contained here and think you can go out and save your loved one on your own. Just as you wouldn’t attempt to treat cancer on your own, don’t attempt to treat the addict on your own. Botched attempts at treatment can actually make things worse.