The Disease of Addiction An Illness Not a Character Flaw

The Disease of Addiction: An Illness, Not a Character Flaw

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Daniel Radcliff, Elvis Presley, Robin Williams, Benjamin Franklin, Adele – all extremely impressive individuals in their own craft. However, despite the awards, accolades, and inventions, each of these individuals has also battled with a drug or alcohol addiction. Simple information like this provides reminders that addiction knows no bounds and can impact even the most talented and innovative individuals. Oftentimes we look at celebrities and excuse their addictions as being consequences of their professions; however, we often do not extend the same courtesies to those in our everyday lives. In 2017, 29.5 million Americans were diagnosed with a substance use disorder; with only 2.5 million of those individuals were actively receiving treatment for their addictions.[1] Society often looks at those with addictions as less than or corrupt, but the fact remains that the disease of addiction is an illness – not a character flaw.

Not a Question of Morality

In 2018, there was a study concerning addiction and identity characteristics of individuals. They found that judgments of an individual are often driven primarily by perceived negative changes in the moral character of drug users, who are seen as having deviated from their good true selves.[2] That being said, Andrew Saxon, chair of the American Psychiatric Association on Addiction Psychiatry, noted that “substance use disorders are chronic brain diseases…morality does not enter the equation at all.” In his literature, Saxon states that addiction is not a reflection of an individual’s morality, but more a consequence of circumstance.[3]

Although initially engaging in a substance may be voluntary, subsequent usage is often a result of the addiction. Unfortunately, the impulse-driven continued use of these dangerous substances gives the appearance that those struggling with addiction do not have the desire to receive treatment.

The Disease of Addiction 

Overcoming a drug addiction is no easy feat. It is even more difficult if an individual has to face that obstacle on their own. Many of those struggling with addictions dream of sobriety and recovery; however, the disease is complex with both physical and psychological components. The body of an individual who battles addiction becomes physically dependent on the drug and, as a result, needs higher doses to create the same euphoric effect. As tolerance builds, signals are sent to the brain, overriding the frontal lobe; the area responsible for executive functioning. As a result, judgment, decision-making skills, impulse control, and inhibition are almost all impacted.   

Deconstructing the Stigma

Research has indicated that drug users are more likely to commit crimes than nonusers; however, that is not always the case. In more cases, those who were not involved in crime at the time they became dependent, and who have enough money to pay for their drug habits, do not resort to dangerous or criminal activities.[4]

Through news coverage and media entertainment, society depicts substance use and abuse as a disease that only impacts those individuals who are homeless and/or live in poverty. The truth remains that addiction does not discriminate. Substance use and abuse impact those from all walks of life regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, employment, or economic status.[5] Normalizing addiction as a disease, just as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, will alter the narrative and negative stigma associated with “addiction”.

Treatment for Addiction

Unfortunately, in most cases, willpower cannot overpower addiction regardless of how “strong” that individual may be. Research shows the relapse rate for those living with addiction is about 40 to 60 percent, which is comparable to the relapse rates of people living with diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.[6] Treating the disorder requires developing healthy coping skills and strategies, as well as strong and reliable systems of support. With a change in narrative and the elimination of the stigma that accompanies addiction, those who are struggling with the disorder are more likely to seek treatment.

There is not one single way to treat addictions. There are multiple components to an addiction that a person needs to address in order to reach sobriety. Counseling and other therapeutic services can be extremely beneficial in the process of developing healthy coping strategies. Research has indicated that recovery or “halfway” houses are very effective, with 87% of residents being abstinent after two years.[7] Surrounded by the right environment and tools, someone suffering the disease of addiction can reach sobriety.  

If you or anyone you know is ready to take the step towards recovery, Ocean Hills Recovery will provide a supportive and encouraging environment to take your life back. Contact us to discover how we can help you today.










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