Addiction and addiction relapse are viewed by different people in different ways, with most of our society in one of two schools of thought – that 1) it is a disease the addict is powerless over, or 2) it is a choice. There is plenty to be said about both of these, and perhaps the answer isn’t wholly one or the other, but rather a combination of the two.
Psychiatry recognizes addiction as a disease of the brain and addiction relapse is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and using, despite the known harmful consequences. Some would argue that addiction is a behavior and that the individual therefore has a choice in whether or not they will continue to use or relapse.
Disease Vs. Choice
People who argue that addiction is a disease say that it is a brain defect, and just like any other part of the body, the brain is a muscle that can have faults. Addiction and addiction relapse is a defect of the brain’s hedonic system which perceives pleasure. This defect causes an addict to subconsciously believe that their drug of choice or alcohol is the answer to pleasure and life, and the brain sends out signals to crave the substance. This craving can become so strong that even the most in-control, mature person could break down and do whatever it takes to get their hands on the drug or drink. It becomes a necessity for survival, and craving is a very real mental pain and suffering.
On the flip side, you have the people who say addiction relapse is a choice. They’ll give you something like the following example. If a person is suffering from cancer, changing their behaviors will not definitely cure their cancer, and if they could make such a change, they would. Those same people will say an addict can simply stop using or drinking and their disease is gone.
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As in most things, this debate is not black and white only. Science has long separated mind and body, which is part of the reason behind the lack of acceptance of addiction as a disease. Many people still have trouble believing that anxiety or depression is a disease as well, and they think these can be changed by using different thought patterns and changing other behaviors. Mental health is slowly becoming much less stigmatized and accepted as a part of society, and treatments like rehabilitation and prescription drugs are becoming less looked down upon.
Mental Illness and Addiction Relapse
Also, this brings to light the correlation of mental illness and addiction relapse. Dual diagnosis – which is the treatment of both happening at the same time, is incredibly common, and if things are looked at in this light, addiction could be a symptom of an anxiety or depression disorder.
The fact is that these two opposing standpoints are still being studied, and it is likely to be a long time before a conclusion is reached. Even then, there are bound to still be people on either side of the coin.
Are you or someone you know battling addiction? What is your take on the matter?