Close to 20 million Americans suffer from at least one addiction. What makes it even worse is that only about 10% of Americans with addiction end up getting any kind of treatment for it.
For many people, addiction can be the number one thing that defines their life more than anything else. Addictions can be so hard to manage, like other diseases.
On the other hand, some people think that addiction is not really a disease at all. They think of it as simply a series of bad choices.
So, what is the truth? Is alcohol addiction a disease? Is substance abuse a disease?
Read on to learn all about the most important things to understand about the debate about whether or not addictions are diseases!
What Is Addiction?
To properly understand this debate, there are a couple of words that we need to understand more deeply. In particular, we need to know exactly what we mean when we say addiction. We also need to know exactly what we are talking about when we use the word disease.
So first off, what exactly is an addiction? In general, people use the word addiction to refer to a strong felt compulsion to do something. In particular, people measure how strong a compulsion is by how much people are willing to sacrifice to alleviate it.
For example, if somebody is willing to suffer intense pain in order to feed a compulsion, that might be one sign that they have an addiction.
Is Everything Compulsive An Addiction?
Of course, all of that applies to things like food. People who do not get enough food feel very strong compulsions to get more food. And they are willing to work and suffer to get it.
So does that mean that food is an addiction? In most cases, no.
The second part of an addiction is that it is harmful. For this reason, we generally do not classify an addiction as something that does not cause harm, even if it does feel extremely compelling.
At the end of the day, addiction combines compulsion and harm. People who are addicted give up valuable parts of their lives in order to feed an addiction.
They do so even if the actual experience of feeding the addiction ceases to be pleasant for them. And they give up things even if the experience of feeding their addiction only lasts for a very short time period.
So, that is what addiction is. The question is, is that a disease?
Is Alcohol Addiction A Disease?
The next word that we have to understand here is “disease.” What exactly makes something a disease?
When most people talk about alcohol addiction as a disease, they are saying something about how much control people have over it.
In fact, this is the central issue of the debate about substance use disorders and other addictions. It is all about whether or not people have control.
Everybody is familiar with the idea that diseases are not under our control. We cannot simply wish that our diseases were gone. They affect our bodies independently of what we want or choose.
When people talk about addiction as a disease, this is a big part of what they are talking about. They are suggesting the compulsion to feed the addiction is so strong that people basically do not have any control over it.
Is Substance Abuse A Disease?
There is a lot of nuance when it comes to substance abuse. Even though we use the same term to apply to everybody with substance abuse problems, there are actually big differences between people who have substance abuse problems.
These differences mean that people experience their addiction differently. And you can even see those differences in the brain.
Understanding The Addictive Brain
The brain learns to do things that reward it. People eat food because eating food is rewarding for our health and comfort.
Unfortunately, some things reward the brain without actually being good for health. That is what a lot of alcohol and substance abuse is about. These things give the brain strong reward signals so that the brain learns to use them more.
In the addictive brain, neural pathways get stronger the more often they are activated. When a certain substance rewards the brain over and over again, the brain starts to create automatic structures that lead to using the substance.
This is part of the argument about addiction as a disease. If the brain simply has a shape such that it always uses a substance under certain circumstances, then maybe that is beyond the control of people. That would make addiction a disease.
Tendencies Toward Addictive Behavior
Of course, some people are more likely to form strong neural pathways for addiction than others. Some people can use alcohol without their brain creating such strong habits.
This might mean that some people experience addiction as a disease because their brains form such strong pathways to use alcohol or substances. But other people might experience addiction as a choice because their brains are not wired so strongly. in that way.
On the other hand, even people with addictive brains might be able to avoid the triggers that lead to certain neural pathways activating. In this way, they might be able to have some measure of control despite their addicted brains.
All of this makes it somewhat unclear to what extent addiction is a disease or not. What we do know is that many people can overcome their addictions using one technique or another.
Understand The Nature Of Addiction
We hope that some of the ideas in this brief article about the nature of alcohol addiction and substance abuse have been helpful for you. Of course, the answer to the question of “Is alcohol addiction a disease?” is not completely clear. At the same time, understanding the intricacies of this question can help people to better understand their addictions, disease or not.
In fact, the better people understand all kinds of questions about addiction, the better prepared they will be to manage them. That is the kind of investment in learning that will more than pay for itself.To learn more about how you can find experts to help you manage your addiction, feel free to get in touch with Inland Detox in Riverside County for a consultation.