Roc & Doc: Is Addiction A Disease?

Is Addiction a Disease?

A common argument against calling it a disease is that it gives the addict/alcoholic an excuse.

The frustration is understandable. But there is no redemptive value in labeling addicts as losers or casting them in other pejorative terms. The complex issue of addiction has more to do with neuroscience than ideas about morality.

Addiction cannot be reduced to oversimplifications. It’s convenient to make moral assertions about people stuck in addiction but the real issue has to do with the effects of drugs and alcohol on brain chemistry and this is a much more complex issue than simple caricatures can define.

To make judgments on the moral character of an addict is either an underestimation of the power of substances or an overestimation of the moral superiority of the one who makes such judgments. This isn’t merely to call-out judgmentalism. That’s easy enough. The goal here rather is to shine some light on some pretty pervasive misinformation out there and to explain the more complicated reality of addiction and its effect on neural pathways.

A common argument against calling addiction a “disease” is that it gives the addict or alcoholic an excuse. But does the word “disease” preclude responsibility?

If a doctor tells me I have heart disease and there’s treatment available, who is responsible for securing treatment? Of course, it would be me. Whether or not I had habits that led to heart disease becomes completely irrelevant at that point. Securing my recovery becomes the only substantive thing that matters. This is the superiority of solutions-assessment over blame-assessment. Even if I weren’t responsible for my disease, I’d still be responsible for my recovery. 


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Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?