Is Addiction a Disease Or Not?
Is Addiction a Disease Or Not?
Addiction is a word that may puzzle most people, even those who have suffered from it themselves. The definition of addiction is “the continued dependence on a substance or behaviour for the cessation of normal functioning”. So what exactly is addiction? Is addiction a disease or not?
One of the biggest problems with addiction is defining it. Most of the medical and addiction communities use the term disease. Unfortunately, the definition of disease remains relatively vague and it includes conditions that do not fit under the umbrella of modern medicine. When you talk of a disease you generally are referring to a condition that causes the body to function abnormally. For example, diabetes is a disease but it is a disorder.
On the other hand, when you talk of addiction, most experts will use the phrase behaviour. This is where it gets a little tricky. Addiction can be a learnt behaviour, a genetic predisposition, an emotional developmental issue or a neurological disorder. Basically anything that differs from the norm is going to be considered a possible cause.
If we look at addiction as a biological dysfunction then it makes a lot more sense. If your child was exposed to trauma in the form of physical abuse or sexual assault they are far more likely to develop addictions than a person who has never experienced these things. It would make much more sense to focus our efforts on finding therapies and treatments that help heal these painful experiences and teach children coping mechanisms. It doesn’t make sense to look at addiction as a purely psychological problem.
There is also a lot of research into the role of genetics in this condition. Nobody knows exactly why some people are more genetically inclined to develop addictions than others. But there are plenty of cases where there are obvious genetic factors. For example if somebody in your family always had a difficult time controlling their cravings then you are more likely to suffer from addiction than somebody who didn’t have that history. It is widely believed that some people can just be born with an addictive personality.
If we look at the biological aspect we can see that the main areas affected are the brain and the gut. The brain’s reward system has been studied extensively and is believed to be responsible for the’reward’ behavior that addicts feel when they successfully complete a task. The reward pathway in the brain is present in all mammals and appears to be relatively simple. The evidence that shows a link between substance abuse and the development of addictions is very weak at best.
The gut is also a very interesting part of the biology of addiction. Although it has been studied less thoroughly than the brain it is believed to be a major contributor to the addictive properties of drugs. A lot of the time people will develop cravings before they have a physical craving, which can increase the chances of developing an addiction. It is not clear why this happens but there does appear to be a significant link between emotional states and an increased vulnerability to addiction.
So is addiction a disease or not? The answer is that it is not. It is a matter of interpretation of the way that the brain is wired and the relative importance that each factor has in determining whether or not an individual will develop an addiction. However, it is important to understand that addicts have a serious problem in their biological systems and in many cases it is biological traits that are responsible for their addiction.