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Is addiction a disease and why are we treating it like one? Humanity has had a long and often unhappy relationship with drugs, alcohol and other harmful and addictive substances. Most likely for about as long as there have been people there has been addiction in some form or another. The oldest records we have found of what we might recognize as drug use come to us from the ancient Sumerian culture in 5000 B.C. These ancients are believed to have had knowledge of opium and its uses. They even had a written symbol that represented opium.
The earliest discovered records of the production and consumption of alcohol have been dated from the year 3500 B.C. and came from the ancient Egyptians. As we come up through the centuries more and more drugs are discovered or developed all over the world, and addiction to these substances increased right alongside.
Coming up the timeline for the year 1785, a man named Benjamin Rush published a study he called “Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Body and Mind.” In this paper, he calls the intemperate (showing a lack of self-control) use of alcohol a disease. Benjamin Rush was among other things, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a well-respected and prominent physician and medical educator of his time.
This new approach of viewing and treating addiction as a disease began to gain traction in the medical field and is now the common and accepted standpoint of almost all major medical entities in the US and around the world. The history of drug use and addiction is important to know about in order to help an addict in need and we will take a look here.
Is Addiction a Disease?
A disease is defined as:
“A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.”
The issue of whether or not addiction should be classified as a disease is a controversial one, with doctors and individuals having strong views and opinions on either side. Some think that because drug addiction stems from a choice to use the drug and the addict could in theory stop at any time, that it is wrong to classify it as a disease such as cancer, ALS, or other diseases that the patient has no choice about.
Others say that while addiction often stems from an initial choice to use a drug, addiction itself is a condition that removes the volitional choice from the addict. Addiction takes away the addict’s control of their actions to a greater or lesser extent. They have a condition that they don’t want that they find themselves unable to get out of.
Just like some other diseases such as Heart Disease, Diabetes, and some forms of Cancer involve the choices an individual makes in their life regarding their diet, exercise, exposure to the sun, etc. The element of personal choice is not what determines whether or not a condition is a disease. It may be that there is truth on both sides of the argument in that addiction does not conform to what many think of as a disease but it has many aspects of one. There are many factors of addiction and labeling it as a physical “disease” may not be encompassing enough to cover all of the physical, emotional, mental, and other compulsive elements of addiction.
Why Does it Matter if Addiction is a Disease or Not?
The bottom line for addicts is that it simply does not matter what addiction is classified as. What matters is what works best to help them get better and fully recover from their addiction. Many people who treat addiction believe that no matter what addiction is classified as, treating addicts as though they have a “disease” can cause several setbacks when it comes to achieving a full recovery.
They feel that if you tell someone that their addiction is caused by a disease they will always have because of pathways formed in their brain, that they may not feel their addiction is something they even can recover from. It has also been found that treating addicts as though they suffer from a disease can remove the element of personal responsibility for their recovery. If their actions are caused entirely by a disease, then all of their previous and future actions can be explained away and justified by them having a disease.
A relapse could be expected, normal behavior because they “have a disease.” This attitude of lessened responsibility for an addict’s condition is not helpful when it comes to trying to turn around these self-destructive habits and start a new, happy and drug-free life. It has been found that addiction is a condition that can affect anyone, it does not discriminate based on any criteria, be it gender, race, religion, economic status or any other defining personal characteristic. Therefore, there is no specific group that tends to need help with addiction more than any other.
There is, however, a distinction in the groups who can afford to pay for addiction treatment. Very often, the best and most effective treatment options for addiction are quite expensive. For many addicts when they get to the point in their life when they feel the need to get better and seek out help with their addiction, they have already alienated friends and family, lost jobs and generally exhausted their financial resources on their drug habit. So for many addicts, they have very little money or options at the point in their lives when they need help most.
How to Get Free Addiction Help
One of the only options someone finding themselves in this position may have is to seek out free treatment for drug addiction. Of course, this help is not actually free, it is usually paid for by taxes collected by the state which then funds public centers for addiction recovery. These programs are called free because they are offered as a public service at little to no cost to addicts who need help. There are positive and negative aspects when it comes to these free addiction help services:
The positive aspects include:
- The cost. This cannot truly be overstated. The fact that these programs are available to the public free of charge is literally a lifesaving benefit.
- The care you receive. Despite the public funding and government involvement in these programs, the people who run them and give help to addicts are often very caring people, many of whom have their own experience with substance abuse or addiction.
The negative aspects include:
- The wait to get into treatment. Because these facilities are the only option for many seeking help for addiction, their services are often booked for months ahead of time. This can be very hard on an addict who decides they want help getting well, but needs help quickly as they may only be able to hold themselves together for that day or even that hour before the compulsion to use again becomes too strong.
- Outdated treatment methods. Free facilities are often very limited in funds in terms of their budget and may not be able to afford to upgrade to newer and more effective treatments. Many of these centers use the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 Step Program. Of course, this does not mean that they can’t help people because they certainly do, it is just to say that they may not provide the highest chance of a full recovery. However as stated above, they are free to the public and any help is FAR better than no help at all.
In conclusion, there are many good, effective, and affordable treatment options for you if you are looking for free help with drug addiction. For more information about free addiction treatment and how to get free help for addiction, call New Beginnings today.