There are millions of people in the United States who suffer from the disease of addiction. In fact, statistics suggest that as many as 40 million Americans are addicted to some kind of mind or mood-altering substances. This means approximately one in 10 people in the United States over the tender age of just 12-years-old are hooked on dope. (We consider alcohol legal dope, by the way).
Though Addiction Affects Millions, Most People are Confused About What Addiction Really Is
What’s startling is that in spite of the fact that our parents, children, family members, and friends are battling the disease of addiction, most people are still confused about what addiction really is. Keep in mind, there is a difference between substance use, abuse, and addiction. We’re talking about addiction.
Many people argue that addiction is a choice. Others say it’s a moral defect of character. Some even believe addiction is caused by demonic possession. This is tragic. The first step to truly conquering addiction in this country is through education. The only way we can become victorious over addiction is to understand exactly what it is.
Do you know the first rule of war? Know your enemy. If you’re battling an addiction, you’re in for the fight of your life. Make no mistake – addiction is your enemy. And, it lives in your head.
What is Addiction? Here’s a Simple Definition for a Complex Brain Disease
In no uncertain terms – addiction is a disease. It is a disorder of the brain. It is a biological condition that affects the overall health and wellness of the person who suffers from it. Addiction is an illness of the mind and body. It is a sickness of the soul. It is a horrific syndrome that is chronic, progressive, and fatal if left untreated. There is no cure for addiction, but there are a number of approaches that promise to treat the condition.
Did you catch that? Three simple words tell you what addiction is. ADDICTION IS A DISEASE.
But, don’t take our word for it. Let’s hear from some other experts in the field of addiction and recovery and see how they define addiction:
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.”
- The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that “Addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction of these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”
- The American Psychiatric Association says, “Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.”
There you have it. The results are in. We have allowed three heavy-hitters in the field of medicine to weigh in and define addiction. They all agree – addiction is a disease.
Still not convinced? Do some internet research of your own. You will find that the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and countless other reputable health organizations also define addiction as a disease. Even Wikipedia says that addiction as a disease.
Okay, Addiction is a Defined as a Disease – But What Does This Mean Exactly?
We have established that addiction is defined as a disease. But, in order for you to truly understand that addiction is a disease, you should probably have a clear understanding of how the word disease is defined.
Of course, you probably already have an intuitive idea of what a disease is. It is sickness, right? You get that. It is illness. It is a departure from health. It is the opposite of wellness. Yet, while you may equate all of these simplistic definitions to that of disease, you may still have a difficult time understanding that addiction is a disease. For reasons that we will later explain, the disease of addiction operates in such a way that you may naturally reject the idea that it is a disease.
So! To drive the point home, Webster’s Dictionary, which offers the most wide-spread and commonly accepted definition, says that a disease is “a condition that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.”
Let’s see if addiction meets the criteria to be classified as a disease based on this definition.
- Is addiction a condition? Check! It is a condition that affects the mind, body and spirit.
- Does it impair normal functioning? Check! Need we explain? You yourself can attest to how addiction has impaired your own normal functioning as a human being.
- Is it manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms? Check! According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “the most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.”
Simple, right? A disease is defined as a condition that meets certain criteria. Addiction meets this criteria. Therefore, addiction is a disease. Ta da!
Some Words and Catchphrases That May Help You Better Understand What Addiction Is
We have defined addiction as a disease, but it is so much more than a brain disorder. We asked some recovering addicts to define addiction for us. Here are some of the synonyms and phrases they offered, which may deepen your appreciation for what addiction truly is.
- A cunning enemy of life
- Powerlessness and unmanageability
- Slowly committing suicide
- A battle through the darkness
- A struggle to find the light
- A break from reality
- A hopeless state of mind
- An affliction of the mind, body, and spirit
- A disorder of the mind, driven by obsession and compulsion
We hope these alternative definitions help clear things up a bit.
Denial May Still Cause You to Refuse the Disease Concept of Addiction
We understand if you are still having a difficult time wrapping your mind around the definition of addiction as a disease. This is not uncommon. Most people who have the disease of addiction do not accept this concept right away. Why? Denial, that’s why.
Denial is a very powerful aspect of this condition. Denial is the part of the disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. It keeps the truth hidden from you because it wants to keep you sick. Denial will tell you all number of lies because addiction wants you to continue to use drugs at all costs. Once you accept that you have a disease, you might actually get help for your illness and remain abstinent from drugs for the rest of your life. Addiction doesn’t want that.
Here are some of the lies denial will manifest so that you will remain in active addiction:
- “You don’t have a disease. You just need to exercise some self-control so you can still drink on the weekends.”
- “You can have just one.”
- “You don’t need those meetings. Those meetings are for junkies. You only smoke pot and take pills.”
- “It’s not like you shoot heroin or anything.”
- “Okay, so you shoot heroin. But you still have a job.”
- “You’re not sick. You’re just weak. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps!”
- “I don’t have a problem with alcohol. It’s the cocaine. I just need to stop using the cocaine.”
The list goes on and on. Anything that your mind tells you that allows you to continue to use drugs while your life spirals out of control is a manifestation of denial.
Three Common Myths About What Addiction Is
If you don’t believe addiction is a disease, you have to believe it is something else. What else could it be? Let’s bust the three most common myths.
Myth # 1 – Addiction is a choice. Addiction is not a choice. Not everyone has the disease of addiction. Medical experts believe addiction is a matter of genetic predisposition. This is why some people can use highly addictive substances like cocaine or opioids recreationally and not touch the stuff again for months or years. If you have the disease, you will become addicted and continue to use drugs in spite of the negative consequences.
Myth # 2 – Addiction is a matter of willpower. Addiction causes you to abuse drugs against your own will. This statement from Smart Drug Policy says it best, “Brain imaging shows that continued drug intake generates a progressive weakening in the prefrontal cortex required for exerting self-control. Once addicted, quitting alone becomes unlikely. It therefore seems strange to assert that one is exercising his or her free will when using drugs.”
Myth # 3 – Addiction is a moral failing. Addiction has nothing to do with whether you are a good or bad person. Technically, addiction is a crime, but it shouldn’t be. The nicest of church going folk and the most horrible of serial killers can have the disease of addiction. It is not a matter of character. It is a matter of genetics and biological make up.
You Don’t Have to Believe Addiction is a Disease to be in Recovery
If you’re not comfortable with calling addiction a disease, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Many people stay in recovery for the rest of their lives without ever accepting that they have a disease. These folks made the decision that it didn’t matter what was wrong with them – they just came to understand that they couldn’t use drugs successfully and they remained abstinent no matter what.
However; we encourage you to do your own research on this topic and learn everything you can about the disease concept. Read about addiction and get as much knowledge on the topic as you can. If you truly want to recover from this condition, you need to be armed with as much information as possible. It won’t hurt to do some homework. You may end up changing your mind about the disease of addiction, but if you don’t, you will definitely arrive at a well-informed decision about what addiction is to you.
Now, we’ve told you the definition of addiction. We’ve provided some insight into what addiction is and what it isn’t. What’s your definition of addiction? Share your thoughts here.