The Disease Model of Addiction

Is addiction really a disease?

Perhaps the most widely accepted addiction model today is the Disease Model, where addiction is defined as a disease involving biological and genetic factors. Scientific research now shows evidence of neurobiological processes that occur in the brain of addicts when using mood altering substances. Addiction is seen as a chronic brain illness marked by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.

Use of most addictive substances, including alcohol, heroin/opiates, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc. floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This causes structural changes to the brain, leading to compulsive behavior and progressive loss of control over substance use. This process alters the pleasure circuit of the brain, creating an artificially high sense of reward.  Because of this surge of dopamine, the brain assigns a much greater value to the drug, often seeing it as more essential than food or sex.

The area of the brain controlling judgment, reason, decision making, memory and behavioral control becomes compromised. Values, morality and integrity are disregarded.  In that state, the craving and compulsion for the substance often overrides the pain and memory of past negative consequences, or the fear of future consequences; whether loss of family, relationships, jobs, finances, freedom, esteem or health.  This phenomenon of craving helps explain why the addict can act in such seemingly thoughtless, careless, even reckless ways.

 

What about choice, responsibility and accountability?

As previously discussed, the disease model of addiction helps to EXPLAIN the addict’s behavior. This does not EXCUSE the behavior. For some, it can be difficult to reconcile disease and choice.

Certainly, there is choice involved. If the addict never chose to use in the first place, the neurobiological forces would never have been put into effect. And if there were no capacity to choose, an addict would never be able to stop once the physiological processes had taken control. Clearly choices need to be made; the choice to stop using, and the healthy choices to do the necessary recovery work.  

There are incredible benefits that come with viewing addiction through the lens of disease.

Will power alone is not enough. Most need help to achieve sobriety

Considering addiction a disease does not absolve the addict from dealing with consequences. It is a degenerative disease, causing a decay of values, morality and integrity. The addict’s true identity also deteriorates as the compulsion drives them to make choices which violate themselves and others. It’s a process that’s difficult for addicts to reconcile. They will often see themselves as “bad”, rather than “sick”. This crisis creates a deep sense of shame, self-loathing and self-condemnation. In reality, the addict is dealing with a sickness which manifests in bad behavior. Understanding and accepting addiction as a disease does not excuse this behavior, but can serve to alleviate the destructive self-judgment which accompanies addiction.

Principles of honesty, personal responsibility and accountability are crucial steps on the path to recovery. Most addicts and their families need help with this process. A professional diagnosis of addiction brings greater responsibility. For recovery to occur, the addict needs to make changes in virtually every area of their life; addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological causes of the disease. Have hope!  Full recovery is possible. With proper help, many are on this path and have realized happiness and freedom. While there is no cure for addiction, this is a disease where you can CHOOSE REMISSION.

Contact Renaissance Recovery Center

If you have any questions about the Disease Model, our twelve step approach to treatment, or any other aspects of our program: don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We know our program isn’t for everyone, but our goal is making sure that all individuals suffering from this terrible affliction get the exact help they need. We will use our vast network of resources to ensure that you or your loved ones receive the treatment you need to overcome addiction.