Most modern medical associations and health practitioners are now used to viewing drug and alcohol addictions as a chronic disease. While this may be old news to those in the treatment field, it can still be a bit confusing for the average citizen. How is drug addiction like a disease, and why do we benefit from viewing it that way?
“Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risks factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.”Center on Addiction
The main idea to remember about addiction being considered a disease is that addiction changes the physical and chemical pathways in the brain, and as a result of this drug use becomes compulsive. It is these brain changes that make the substance user feel that they have no control over whether or not to use the substance.
Here is a good video that explains this idea in some more depth:
Because addiction is a chronic disease, it means that treatment efforts must be ongoing. An addict is never fully recovered, and to avoid all-too-common relapses treatment plans need to be modified and adjusted as the patient responds. This is similar to the way many other chronic diseases require ongoing care and attention to prevent relapse.
By viewing addiction as a disease, healthcare practitioners are able to create better treatment plans that take into account the whole person that is struggling with the disease. This view also helps to remove some of the stigma around addiction, and encourages those with substance abuse disorders to seek professional help from qualified agencies.