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.