Is addiction a choice or a disease? The definition of disease is described as “a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury”. A choice is described as “an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities”. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain which is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.
With knowing all the definitions, you will think people will automatically characterize addiction as a disease because it’s basically a brain disorder. While some will argue that addiction is a brain disorder or disease, my stand is that it is more likely that addiction is a choice and not a disease. It is a choice because people make the initial decision to start using drugs which can eventually turn into an addiction. It is also a choice because some drug addicts choose to quit their addiction which is not consistent with disease definition because people with diseases can’t just chose to quit their disease. Another reason why addiction is not a disease is because it is not caused by an actual disorder but instead, it is caused by many different factors such as your environmental factors.
I remember as a child, I always saw a specific advertisement on the television, all over posters around the city and even my school that stated D.A.R.E. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) was police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives, according to DARE website.
I remember the commercial telling us how bad drugs were and to basically not do drugs by saying no to drugs. It was silly to me at that time in my life because I was young but for some reason, that commercial stayed with me. D.A.R.E helped me make the decision to not try drugs at that time because I kept thinking of how dangerous it will be and how much I could get in trouble if I was to try drugs. That as the decision I made because I knew the consequences of drug abuse. I had a lot of friend that saw the same commercials as me and saw the same advertisements, but they made their choice to try drugs and some of them eventually became addicted to it. These people knew the consequences and the affects drugs will eventually have on them and their bodies, but they still made the decision to go ahead and try it because it was their choice.
The choice that we make to try drugs is what causes an addiction which causes a disease. According to the neuroscientist Marc Lewis, “addiction is not a disease but the consequence of the brain’s natural capacity to change its structure and function in response to repeated behavior that offers reward”. In his book, The Biology of Desire, he states that “Addiction results, rather, from the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual. Thus, addiction develops – it’s learned – but it’s learned more deeply and often more quickly than most other habits, due to a narrowing tunnel of attention and attraction. A close look at the brain highlights the role of desire in this process. The neural circuitry of desire governs anticipation, focused attention and behavior.” (p. 11, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not A Disease. By Marc Lewis, 2015). This is a very true statement because if we never try drugs, our brain will never get in the habit of wanting it or needing it and I believe that’s exactly what happens when we use drugs.
“Most addicts quit using drugs at clinically significant levels, they typically quit without professional help, and in the case of illicit drugs, they typically quit before the age of 30” (Heyman G. M. (2013). Addiction and choice: theory and new data. Frontiers in psychiatry, 4, 31. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00031). If addiction is truly a disease, then how are most addicts able to quit without any professional help?
In this world we live in, we’re exposed to many different types of disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, Arthritis, bipolar disease, anxiety, cancers, mental illness, Crohn’s disease, and thousands of more diseases. For example, Each disease named on here have treatments that require professional help and almost every disease in the world does also. Diseases are sometimes genetic, meaning they were born with it, some people can catch diseases from other people such as STDs, animals, airborne, etc. People with these diseases do not wake up and decide to want to go try a disease. They can’t wake up one day and just decide to quit their disease just because their tired of it or it’s too painful. People with diseases have no choice regarding the disease they have and whether they can quit. Some are stuck with their disease and can’t do anything about it other than try their best to get better by receiving professional help and treatments.
There are treatments for drug addiction such as Narcotics Anonymous which uses the traditional 12-step model to help people with drug addiction or drug abuse. Other treatments include prescription drugs such as Naltrexone (Vivitrol), Buprenorphine (Probuphine, Suboxone), Disulfiram (Antabuse), etc. But then again, drug addicts can simply wake up one day and decide to stop their addiction because their bored with it, they don’t have any more money to continue their habit, they lost too many family members, etc. which is one of the main reasons why I argue that drug addiction is not a disease.