Is Addiction a Disease?

I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager and certainly throughout my 20s I allowed it to control me and define who I was. I drank more because of my anxiety and my rash decision making was driven by my bouts of depression. I had poor mental health from before I drank and I still have it after choosing abstinence from it.

As I get older and maybe wiser (maybe) I’m learning more about my conditions and it has certainly been easier to analyse and understand without alcohol blurring things.

I firmly believe we can overcome addiction and bury it in the past but I’m not as convinced we ever rid ourselves of our mental health disorders. Yet both are called ‘disorders’ by the medical profession. However, my stance is this;

I consider picking up alcohol or a drug as a choice. We don’t choose depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. but I don’t mean that addiction is a choice. Nobody chooses addiction but we chose to start using (in the vast majority of cases). We’ve enabled one disorder by physically ‘feeding it’ but mental health disorders are much more deep rooted. No?

I’m not dismissing addiction, far from it. I’m trying to separate addiction from mental health conditions which are diagnosed by a doctor. We all have mental health, but whether we have good or bad mental health varies from one person to another. It is influenced by genetics, environment, life events and of course substance abuse. Addiction involves changes in the functioning of the brain and body due to persistent use of a substance that we choose to use.

I can’t do anything to guarantee I won’t suffer with anxiety or depression again. I can manage my conditions and if I look after myself I can minimise the disruption and damage it causes me. I can guarantee I won’t drink alcohol again though because I’ve made that choice.

However, it isn’t as straight forward as that is it? If that was the case surely every person who has ever been addicted to drink or drugs could make the choice (should they wish) to get clean? I can’t speak for everyone and I totally appreciate we are all on our own journey but I’m on my own unique pathway too and this is the mindset I have which is helping me stay sober. By using AVRT I have been able to separate my addiction from me but I know a lot of people in recovery don’t do this and various recovery programmes won’t have that viewpoint. You know what? That’s fine. Do what works for you and keeps you clean but also respect that what I’m saying is working for me and many others like me.

Addiction makes the choice making much more difficult and interventions are quite often required. I was sectioned for mental health reasons BUT I was classed as alcohol dependent at the same time and I undertook a detox which was the start of my decision not to drink anymore. I chose not to when I left hospital. Nobody forced me.

A quick google asking the question if addiction is a disease generally brings up similar answers along the lines of.. “Addiction, clinically referred to as a substance use disorder, is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgement and memory”

So based on this common statement let’s not argue with the description of addiction as a ‘disorder’ but let me ask – does that mean I can cure my addiction through change of mindset alone? Because that’s what I believe I have done. By using Rational Recovery I am understanding my ‘addiction’ as a separate entity and I’m successfully controlling it. Unfortunately I can’t do that with my other ‘disorders’ which have been diagnosed by doctors. These require medication and interventions.

I could sit here and talk about AVRT, give examples, share case studies and delve into the psychology of Rational Recovery but I don’t want my Blog to become an advert for the programme. My alcohol dependency was a part of my life but it isn’t any longer because I chose recovery. Recovery is part of my life now and I’ll share my opinions and experiences but I will continue to listen to others, learn about other paths and live my best life. My mental health conditions still exist and of course alcohol still exists (all around me) so I’m sure I’ll continue to find plenty to write about.

Author: Happy Daddy

A married thirtysomething Dad of two young daughters navigating my way through life a day at a time

2 thoughts on “Is Addiction a Disease?”

  1. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor E. Frankl

    Liked by 2 people

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