Is Alcohol & Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

As long as there has been addiction, there has also been attempts to understand its nature. Is addiction a choice? Or is addiction a disease? For centuries, mankind has been striving to unravel the mysteries of what addiction actually does to someone to make them continue using even though it leads to obvious harm. There have been several beliefs and philosophies regarding chemical dependency that became generally accepted by society. However, each new theory often contradicts the key principles of the former belief, creating conflicts of ideals. While there hasn’t been much of an informational revolution for the last twenty years, a new theory by Marc Lewis is proposing a radical change to our understanding of addiction. But before we can fully understand what Lewis is positing, it is important that we understand the previous interpretations of addiction.

The Moral Model of Addiction

One of the more long-standing philosophies of addiction has been the Moral Model. For centuries, people who were addicted to substances were considered to be of weaker will or lacking in moral character. According to people who hold this view, Addiction is considered to be a conscious choice that addicts continue make every time they presented with substances. Practitioners in the era often employed techniques of public shaming and humiliation. However, these approaches still did not seem to work for most cases.

Disease Model of Addiction

In last twenty years, new technological innovations, particularly brain mapping instruments, gave us more insight as to the physical changes that addiction creates in the brain. From what researchers were able to see, the action and behaviors of addiction were symptoms of a chemical imbalance in the brain, bearing parallels to the nature of most chronic diseases. Many organizations (such AA and other 12-Step programs) have integrated philosophy of treating addiction like an involuntary disease, rather than conscious choice. With the application of the disease model, practices have demonstrated greater success in treating clients. Even though there have been individuals have not benefited from care that is based on the disease model, it has made greater accommodations to a greater majority of the population.

New Theory of Addiction

Recently, psychologist and recovering addict Marc Lewis has made claims that addiction would not be accurately defined if it were characterized as a disease. According to Lewis, the classification of addiction does not leave much room to take into account the placidity of the human brain and its ability to adapt to situation. Instead, Marc Lewis posits that the effects of addiction are more related to disruption of homeostasis in cognitive development.

Lewis states that “The brain changes with addiction, but the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.”
With his thesis, Lewis intends to view addiction as a disruption in the mind (particularly concerning motivation); a bad habit that is strongly reinforced by chemicals, rather than a chronic disease.

With this new theory circling the psychiatric communities, it is difficult to immediately determine if Marc Lewis’s model of addiction will cause significant reforms in the way society views addiction, but it may provide assistance to some individuals with a similar mindset. Time will tell if this philosophy of chemical dependency takes hold in the rest of society and really does provide better insight that will assist the rest of the world.

Learn more about the variety of treatments for addiction.  Or call and speak with an addiction specialist 866-578-7471 to answer any questions. 

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