2017-11-01 / Health

Disease or choice?


Not everyone agrees on this topic, not even professionals. One thing that can be agreed on is the fact that no one that suffers from addiction sets out to become addicted. As a person continues to use, their ability to control usage decreases significantly. Over time, what once was “fun” now is a debilitating struggle.

In the past decade there has been a major increase in the scientific evidence that addiction is a transition from casual use to dependency. This transition is facilitated by a series of changes within the brain caused by repeated drug exposure. The symptoms of these changes in the brain are expressed through behavioral compulsions. The fact that the brain actually experiences change in function, and that these changes are manifest through behavior, makes addiction a biobehavioral brain disease.

People that oppose the idea of addiction being a disease tend to say that it is simply a lack of self-will, and that if the addicted person wanted to quit, they would; they place all the blame on choice, and do not consider biology at all. This type of brain disease is not new, and not exclusive to addiction. Schizophrenia, severe anxiety, and even depression show themselves behaviorally, yet almost no one objects when a person says they struggle with these ailments. A person having a psychotic episode because of untreated schizophrenia is met with a measure of compassion and offered treatment. They are not told to suck it up, or to quit acting like that, and definitely not told that they should just choose to quit hallucinating and not act erratically.

Now, this is not to say that the person suffering from these mental health diseases and disorders does not have any responsibility in their treatment. The addicted person, just like one suffering from anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, type II diabetes, or lung cancer, has a responsibility if they are to recover. They must follow their treatment recommendations and guard against a return to an active disease state. If they do not adhere to treatment the behavioral symptoms will surely return. Consider the diabetic who became afflicted due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The fact that the person’s choices lead to their disease does not make them any less diabetic. Regardless of how they arrived at diabetes, they are still diabetic, and cannot simply choose to no longer struggle with maintaining a healthy level of sugar in their blood. However, if treatment is followed, maintained, and taken seriously, the person battling these diseases, including addiction, can be symptom free and live a life free from their active disease. Remission is possible, and happens everyday.

This all leads to a question: what is the best treatment for addiction? This side of the argument is riddled with debate. Some people say incarceration, others counseling. The spiritual say that a higher power is required, others a change in environment. Some doctors advocate for medical assistance, those who are not in the medical field demand abstinence. The real solution isn’t as easy as one choice. People are different. Just as the person who struggles with depression might recover through medicine, exercise, diet, counseling, or a combination of several, people who are addicted have different options. There isn’t a “cookie cutter” answer that works for everyone. The real solution is to utilize all these options appropriately, on an individualized, case to case basis, and preferably supervised under the care of a professional.

The good news is that because addiction is a disease, there is treatment, treatment that works. The choice comes when treatment is introduced. It’s a choice for someone to offer treatment, and it’s a choice to accept. The challenge is for everyone to choose compassion, choose to offer treatment, and choose to encourage those that are already recovering. Addiction is a biobehavioral disease, and people affected do recover.

Tim Robinson is CEO and founder of Addiction Recovery Care. He may be reached at 606- 638-0938 www.arccenters.com.

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