Anyone who has spent time with drug addicts (or who has suffered through a drug addiction) will know that many people refer to it as a disease. But is this really true? Can drug addiction actually be classed as a disease, or is this simply another one of the endless excuses drug addicts make for their behaviour? If you have a drug addict in your life you can probably relate to this.
Drug addicts are great at making excuses for their condition. And the idea of their addiction being a disease is almost a perfect excuse. It absolves the addict of almost all responsibility. It’s not their fault that they have a problem because their addiction is a disease. It is something far beyond them and simply cannot be helped says Eric – the owner of Anchored Recovery Detox in Orange County, California.
While this is true in many cases, what you have to realize is that there is no easy answer to this question. There are many ways to approach this idea. The fact is that while drug addiction is not caused by a virus or germ which inhibits your body, it can often feel like a disease. That being said, there are many reasons why drug addiction can be seen as a disease. These are:
1. Like a Disease, Drug Addiction Is Often Totally Uncontrollable
The main reason why drug addiction is considered a disease is that – like an illness – there is often very little you can do about it. Compare this to something like the flu. No one chooses to get sick, it simply happens. One day you’re well and the next you’re in bed.
While this might sound like an exaggeration, it is usually the experience that people have with drugs. Most people who are addicted to drugs find themselves completely helpless to their addiction. There is nothing they can do about it. The drive and compulsion to abuse drugs is totally out of their control. It simply happens from one day to the next.
Yes, there are people who develop a drug addiction over time. But the vast majority of people find themselves hooked from the very beginning. This is why most people who start using drugs will eventually find themselves addicted. Yes, it might take time, but the result is usually the same.
2. Drug Addiction Is Often Caused by Underlying Mental Health Conditions
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of drug addicts have some type of underlying mental health problem. This can be something relatively simple like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. In many cases, the drug addict is simply trying to relieve their problems by self-medicating.
One of the biggest causes of drug addiction is personality disorders. These are a set of mental health conditions that are characterized by various types of irrational thinking and behaviours. For example, one of these behaviours can be extreme impulsivity. These people are unbelievably impulsive and cannot control themselves.
If a thought comes into their head they have to act on it, often immediately. As you can imagine this makes dealing with drug addiction extremely difficult. Whenever a person thinks about taking drugs, they usually end up doing it. Their thinking can also be completely irrational. They may think that taking drugs is ok, or a good idea or there is nothing wrong with it. Obviously, this makes no sense, but to the individual with a personality disorder, this seems completely rational.
There are also certain personality disorders – such as narcissistic personality disorder – which give people an innate sense of superiority. They often have a feeling of invincibility, and this makes them unwilling to admit their problem. Clearly, this will be a major obstacle in overcoming their addiction.
To normal people, this may seem completely insane, and unless you have a personality disorder (or have dealt with people who have personality disorders) this will be almost impossible to understand. All you have to know is that the person has a mental health condition that makes recovery from drug addiction supremely difficult.
3. Just Like Disease, Drug Addiction Destroys Your Body
Like the worst diseases, drug addiction will eventually ravage and destroy your body. All drugs cause damage to your body. Over time this impacts your health and may eventually kill you. The most obvious example of this is when a drug addict overdoses and passes away. Before this happens drug addiction will cause all manner of damage. This can be brain damage, damage to your lungs, your heart, your gut, your appearance, and even your bones.
Take, for example, something like alcohol. Over time alcohol abuse will utterly destroy your health. This substance harms every organ in your body and prolonged abuse will eventually kill you. This can manifest itself as heart disease, cirrhosis, liver and kidney failure, or even death by alcohol poisoning. Ultimately, drug addiction can be considered a disease because in many cases it eventually kills you. In fact, most drug addicts have a life expectancy of only 40.
4. Drug Addiction Takes Treatment to Overcome
Like many diseases, drug addiction may take a long-term and intensive treatment to overcome. What this means exactly will vary from person to person. It can mean something as simple as attending AA or NA meetings. For other people, it will mean several months in a rehabilitation facility.
And in many cases, this treatment may take actual medication. For example, people who are withdrawing from alcohol or heroin will need supplementary medication to help them overcome the symptoms of the disease. Treatment may also involve some type of psychological counselling. This is needed in the case of people who are abusing drugs because of underlying mental health problems.
These types of people may also need medication for their problems. For example, if you are suffering from depression, taking anti-depressants can help (oftentimes these are used to replace the high you get from drugs).
The bottom line is that whether or not drug addiction is actually a disease really doesn’t matter. Ultimately you should treat it as a disease. After all, this is why people talk about, “recovering” from drug addiction.