Is Addiction a Disease?


To most medical professionals, the inquiry as to whether addiction is a disease is a simple one with an obvious answer. The medical response would be, of course, addiction is a disease. A disease of behavioral, psychological, environmental, biological, and genetic factors. This cannot be denied as what the individual is experiencing is clearly an abnormal and undesirable condition which has afflicted them and become out of their control. Yet despite this clarification, I remain reluctant to call addiction a disease purely for the reason that once someone is given the prognosis that they have a disease it often leads to feelings of helplessness and doom. Many diseases are chronic and uncurable. However, with addiction there is always the possibility for a full and successful recovery.


I’m not a huge fan of labels. This may seem odd coming from a licensed mental health therapist, required to make a diagnosis for each client they see. Yet it doesn’t sit well with me to name someone as something deemed potentially negative. The definition of disease is, a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people (Oxford, 2021). And this is a helpful and accurate definition that would pertain to something like addiction. Yet “diseased” also has a fairly negative and undesirable connotation. It implies that something is wrong with that person. Yet, just because you are struggling with addiction does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. When we are talking about addiction, it could be considered a disease in the way that it is an affliction that negatively affects someone. In addition, a disease isn’t seen as something that someone electively incurs. No one chooses to become addicted to something, be it drugs, alcohol, or anything else. We may initially enjoy partaking in something yet feel out of control as our engagement grows to destructive levels. So, yes, addiction can be seen as a disease yet the idea can disempower people. Sure it can be seen as a disease in the way that it creates a literal dis-ease within you. Yet try to keep an open mind that it doesn’t mean that there is inherently something marred about you.


We can state the facts. Addiction is an unpleasant condition that requires treatment to address and resolve. Therefore, it can be considered a disease of the body, mind, and being. Most significantly of the being as addiction is rooted not in the mind rather in the emotions. This of course is my personal take as someone who has recovered from several addictions and has a therapy background. Many different science and medical professionals would likely disagree. I see it as being foremost an emotional disorder as any addiction is a means of attempting to seek relief externally from that which plaques us internally. This could be physical pain, alcoholism is common among individuals struggling with chronic pain. However, most often addictions become an obsessive/compulsive means of treating emotional wounding from trauma and deep held shame and false core beliefs about oneself. Once these addictions are developed, there becomes a physical and mental dependency and efforts made to try and micromanage our uncomfortable emotions.


Regardless of whether you consider addiction to be a disease or not, it is important to seek treatment for whatever you are experiencing that is causing distress and dysfunction in your life. Addiction quickly becomes self-destructive and can lead to dire consequences when not professionally treated. When we try to pretend that a condition isn’t serious, whether a formal disease like cancer or an addiction, the condition will continue to worsen until we reach the point of being fully disabled by it.

When Should I Go to Rehab


One of the most challenging aspects of treating an addiction is being able to identify it in the first place. How do we know exactly when an addiction is present and, if it is suspected, when do we seek treatment for it? At first thought it may be hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t realize that they have developed an addiction. How could someone not recognize when that is happening? Denial, avoidance, and normalizing of behavior can be a strong trio that keep people from seeing their addiction for what it is. In addition, due to the stigma involved with having a drug or alcohol problem, many individuals will turn away from the reality of their situation. This reality might look like a significant increase in frequency and amount of drug or alcohol use which is resulting in adverse effects on the person’s life. Usage starts to impact the individual personally, professionally, financially, physically and more. The negative repercussions are often the case because in order to continue their habit, there will likely be a significant amount of deception occurring in their relationships at work, home, and socially. Not to mention the lies they may need to be telling themselves, one of which being that they are fine and they don’t have a problem. In reality, a problem is forming all around them. 


There are many signs which indicate that substance abuse has become a concern. The question is whether someone chooses to acknowledge it or not. Once someone begins to see issues, they might be ready to ask themselves some tough questions like; do I feel capable of managing my substance use? Have I become preoccupied with using drugs or alcohol? Am I developing a dependency on it? Am I able to go a week, a day, an hour without it? These are all significant questions to ask when determining if addiction may be present. Sometimes the problems will become so apparent that the individual doesn’t have the luxury of quiet contemplation. Their behaviors may become very evident to those around them leading to expressed concern and desire or even demand for treatment to be sought. Once these conversations come up, the question of, “Should I go to rehab” becomes a matter of necessity. The change in behavior and resulting ramifications can no longer be overlooked and are affecting people in the person’s life. When an addiction reaches its peak, it often involves a lot of wreckage surrounding them. Relationships and jobs lost, damage and loss of possessions and money among many others. There are often a few rounds or attempts to decrease substance use on one’s own before going into treatment. However sometimes the situation is so severe that it is evident that a professional, controlled facility is the only answer.  


It’s never easy to admit that we have lost control over an aspect of our lives. Pride will often take addicts to their grave as they simply cannot bare to concede to something being out of their power to manage. Especially when the admittance will dramatically change their lives. The tricky thing about addiction is that it grows out of something that often begins as a cherished and pleasurable past time. The decision to go to rehab takes great courage and can feel like a huge sacrifice and terrifying admission. However, the truth is that it can also feel like a huge relief for anyone who has been in the exhausting cycle of addiction for any period of time. Addictions are grueling. The thing that once provided great relief and even euphoria and joy will come to cause great misery and suffering. All addictions seem at first to serve us until we become a slave to it. There are many resources out there for anyone struggling with addiction, both to gain insight and seek help.