Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Behavior


Guest Blogger Rose Lockinger, is back with another thought-provoking, informative post. As the face of addiction changes, so does the perspective on its definition. MWM

Why do people drink alcohol or use drugs? There is no one answer to that question. It’s generally easier to justify having a drink, for example, than doing a little cocaine or speed, but the reasons are often the same. Curiosity, peer pressure, curbing social anxiety, fitting in, turning 21. The list goes on.

While the list of reasons why a person might drink and use in the first place seems pretty cut and dry, the next question is much harder to answer. Why can some people stop, and others can’t? Why does a drug and alcohol rehab work for some but fail for others? Why does one person decide they have had enough, but others don’t seem to be able to make that decision? Why is it that a person will continue using or drinking, even in the face of severe consequences? Why would a person voluntarily put a drug into their body that could possibly kill them, or continue doing a drug they have just overdosed from

For the person who is in active addiction, it’s tough to explain to friends or family why they can’t stop. It’s also difficult to see that there’s a problem at all. Denial is a defense mechanism that plagues many addicted persons and their families.

The Disease Of Addiction

So is addiction a disease? There is a definite divide over this, with some agreeing that it is indeed a disease, and others believing that it is a behavior. Who’s right?

Research suggests that there are both genetic and environmental components to addiction. If addiction were solely a result of environmental influences, it could still be considered a disease, not simply a behavior. Here’s the dictionary definition as found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

An impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors

There are strong arguments for addiction being at least partially caused by genetic influences. In addition, it is often preceded by trauma, abuse and neglect, and often goes hand in hand with mental illness.

Other factors that support the disease model of addiction include the fact that addiction is chronic, progressive and relapsing. Without treatment, true addiction rarely goes away on its own. It requires effective intervention and treatment.

But Isn’t It A Choice?

To some degree, yes. The first time someone picks up a drug or a drink, it is indeed a choice. It’s a choice plenty of people make. Alcohol is one of the most widely used mind-altering substances in the world, but not everyone becomes addicted to it. Other drugs may be used by people recreationally or temporarily, with no long-term ill effects. Any time someone picks up a glass of wine or takes an opiate painkiller they are certainly making a choice. But it’s doubtful that any of those people choose to become addicted.

Another argument that might be proposed is that the addiction is a side effect of a behavior, and therefore shouldn’t qualify as a disease. In other words, the person made a choice to continue using substances and subsequently developed an addiction that got out of control, but it was a result of their behavior.

If someone smokes cigarettes and develops lung cancer, does that mean the cancer isn’t a disease, because it was caused by a behavior? The reality is that cancer is cancer. A person’s choices may impact whether or not they get diabetes. But diabetes is still a disease.

So yes, addiction does come about as a result of behavior, but that doesn’t make addiction any less of a disease.

Addiction Isn’t A Moral Issue

Along with those who believe that addiction is a behavior, there are also plenty of people who believe that addiction is a moral issue, or a total lack of willpower. This is not the case, however. Granted, it’s easy to see why someone may feel that way. The behavior of an addict may be baffling and frustrating. They may do things that are out of character. So often you hear parents wonder where their sweet, loving child went, or a spouse wonder what happened to the person that they married, because this “new” person is virtually a stranger. These behaviors are largely due to the changes that the brain undergoes during addiction.

When you think of willpower, you have to understand that willpower isn’t really a thing that applies here. What you are considering to be willpower is actually impulse control. A lack of impulse control is characteristic of addiction. It is also a trait that appears in certain other disorders, as well. In fact, a lack of impulse control in childhood has been used as a predictor to determine whether a child is at risk for addiction or other issues.

There Are Often Other Underlying Factors

The disease of addiction doesn’t appear to have any one root cause. This is true of other diseases, as well. Cancer may be partially attributed to genetics, partially attributed to environment and partially attributed to behavior. With that said, we’ve all heard of the person who did everything right, has no history and was not exposed to any type of carcinogen yet still died from the disease of cancer. Why does this happen? We still don’t know. Disease isn’t always that simple. Causes vary, and treatment outcomes vary, as well.

When it comes to addiction, there are a variety of risk factors that seem to contribute to the likelihood of addiction. Here are a few:

  • Addiction in the family. This may be a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, etc. This means that there may be a greater likelihood of addiction due to genetic influences. The family member does not have to be a primary caregiver in order for this to be considered a risk factor.
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse. Research shows that children who have experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect or other trauma are far more likely to develop addiction later on in life than those who did not experience trauma. This isn’t just about the adult survivor trying to numb the pain (although that is part of it) but also due to the fact that childhood trauma itself causes measurable changes to the brain that might make it more vulnerable to addiction and other mental illness later on.
  • Environmental factors. A person, whether a child or even an adult who is constantly exposed to substance abuse is more likely to engage in the behavior. While this in itself may not cause addiction, it does increase the risk factor that addiction may develop.

Addiction Is A Deadly Disease

Anyone can develop addiction. It is a disease that does not discriminate. There is no one “type” of person who becomes addicted. People who are healthy, affluent, educated and come from “good” families can be addicts. Men and women, young and old can become addicts, regardless of race, socioeconomic status and religious beliefs.

People die every single day as a result of addiction, and it needs to stop. Stigma and criminalization do not improve the situation, they make it worse.  They make it difficult to move past the consequences that most addicts face.  The more that stigma is lifted and awareness is raised the more people will be willing to seek help.

Like other diseases, addiction can be managed with care. It’s important to not give up on the addicted person. Many do recover. They go on to become productive members of society, and active members of their communities.

About Our Guest Blogger

Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find Rose Lockinger on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram




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