Is Addiction a Disease?


In some quarters, this question has been answered with a resounding “Yes” and it might surprise you the issue is still very much alive in the addiction community, especially when you bring in biologists and medical professionals who weren’t trained in that model.

Arecent article by Dr. Marc Lewisin Psychology Today brings up the unresolved issues. Dr. Lewis starts from the “not a disease” side of the ledger and brings up several points on that side:

*You don’t “catch” addiction,at least not like you’d contract an infection – there’s some argument that it might be contracted through social means (or at least made worse).

*You don’t treat addiction with medications or expect a cure.It’s not that medication may not have a place, but there certainly isn’t an anti-addiction pill that clears it up.

*You don’t “have” addictionin the same sense as you “have” a cold or other disease. Addiction is deeper than that and interwoven with who we are as a person. There doesn’t seem to be a way to abstract out just the addiction component of someone’s personality, nor can you surgically remove it, measure it or rank someone on a clear scale against anyone else.

But then, the good doctor presents the other side of the issue and the powerful analogy with type II diabetes, a condition for which some are predisposed, affected by behavior, is never cured nor thought of as anything other than a disease.

Perhaps the real discriminator is the idea of addiction being a character flaw with a moral dimension. This idea is falling away as addiction is seen less as a willful choice and more of an inborn propensity toward the harmful behavior. We don’t blame people for getting diabetes so much as show them ways to live and reduce the negative consequences. Diabetes isn’t a moral failing (although obesity might be thought of that way). Diabetes isn’t “evil.”

The best framing might be that addiction is a type of developmental disorder, a disease that can develop in susceptible people when exposed to an environment conducive to the condition. This doesn’t solve all the problems, but does shift the focus away from blaming addicts for moral lapses and hedonism.


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