Is Addiction a Learned Behavior or a Disease?

4643385367_6243ae410a_zThe definition of what addiction means began with the beginnings of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Big Book, written by AA co-founder Bill Wilson, explains alcoholism as:

“We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.”

“We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals-usually brief-were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better.” (Chapter 3)

Many writers and researchers are now defining addiction as learned behavior that moves away from the longheld disease model.

Some links about this change:

  1.  From Beyond Meds: “Addiction is not an Illness“:

We hear  a lot that addiction is an illness?  For recovery work this is a good stance to take-at times.  Treating the use of a drug as an illness is a powerfully motivating concept that keeps one vigilant.  It is a useful device for not slipping back into thinking one can just drink again, for example.  Because yes, after you have an ingrained pattern of using a particular substance to quell or push down how much things hurt…it is REALLY hard to not go back to it.  So, having to see it as an incurable illness is actually incredibly pivotal and effective.

Yet, it is not a literal illness.  Addiction is not an illness…which is why it can never be cured.  Addiction is  a need.  It is a response to a need to reestablish a lost connection.   The way we burn for truth and love makes us light fires.  Not all of them provide warmth.  Some of them just kill us.

Addiction can be two things:

  1. a way that we seek to subdue how much it burns to experience life in  a disconnected state
  2. a way that we seek to shortcut the journey to feeling connected again by reigniting the connection (through chemical or other means)

Read more here.

2.  From the influence: “Why the “Disease Model” Fails to Convince Americans That Addiction is a Health Issue”:

While 12-step programs claim to be “spiritual, not religious,” they aren’t like any other mainstream medical or psychological treatment. Do oncologists ask cancer patients to find a Higher Power? Do psychiatrists suggest that people with depression must to take “a searching and fearless moral inventory”? Do any other patients routinely get told by the medical professionals that their problem involves “defects of character”

While this language—taken directly from 12-step programs—remains a fundamental part of treatment, why would anyone believe it is a medical issue, rather than a problem only bad people have?

Indeed, if you sought any other type of medical care and were informed that the best treatment is meeting others with your condition, praying, confession and restitution, you’d likely rapidly conclude that you were seeing a quack—or at the very least, had wandered outside of mainstream medicine.

In addictions, however, this profoundly moralizing treatment is mainstream. And that leaves many disease model folks arguing out of both sides of their mouths.

“It’s a disease like any other,” they insist—while touting a treatment that would be considered faith-healing in general medicine and psychiatry, one that also implies moral failure. As a result, it’s no surprise that the public, seeing the prominence of the 12-step approach, thinks the word “disease” belongs in scare quotes for addiction, and hides a wink and a nod because the “treatment” is really either incarceration or God.

None of this is to say that some people don’t find the Steps helpful—it’s just that they really aren’t an argument for the disease model.

Read more here.

Photo credit.


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