Why drug and alcohol abuse is not a disease is a pressing debate in the medical community as their stance dictates it shouldn't be approached as a disease. Some suggest that alcohol and drug abuse malfunction in response to some underlying psychological issue, typically depression.
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Addiction is not contagious, autoimmune, hereditary, degenerative, or traumatic, and it is self-acquired. However, it's important to recognize that understanding drug and alcohol abuse from the disease model over the free-will or moralistic models has a vested interest in the treatment industry.
The $35 billion treatment industry in the United States dictates how the treatment of addiction is presented, but just from one perspective of a broader and more holistic approach. There are several versions of the disease model, one of which became the foundation for 12-step recovery and the cornerstone of the great majority of rehab programs.
The CMAJ editorial referred to research on the neurobiology of addiction that looked at the brains of people with addiction after their behavior had damaged them — brains were not examined in their premorbid state.
The same can be said of arguing that the consequences of traumatic brain injuries caused the injury. The title of the referred article, ironically, uses the term "disorders" rather than "diseases."
Scientists argue that neurobiological changes caused by alcohol or drug abuse are caused by any goal-oriented activity that becomes all-consuming. Some compare to gambling, sex addiction, internet gaming, learning a new language or instrument, and powerfully valenced activities like falling in love or religious conversion.
Regardless of the conflicting stance on alcohol and drug abuse being a disease, the core motivation of prioritizing treatment is still as crucial as ever. Providing victims of drug and alcohol abuse with the right support system while working with a medical professional for a proactive course of treatment can go a long way.
Learn how to talk about drug and alcohol abuse with teens and family members from our blogs at Radical Rehab.
Gary McKenzie is Radical Rehab’s CEO. He is committed to helping people with alcohol and drug addiction. Gary made it his mission to spread knowledge and resources to those in need.