Addiction as a Disease

One of the challenging aspects of addictions is that society often views those who
wrestle with addictions in a negative manner. The images of addicts often depicted in
the media views them as being morally deficient, perhaps even choosing a lifestyle of
depravity over one of responsibility. This “moral model” depicts addiction as a choice—
a symptom of a moral deficiency. Unfortunately, this approach leaves those struggling
with addictions to manage the added burden of shame, which in turn may undermine their
efforts to get help.

With advances in medical research, particularly genetic and biological studies of those
suffering from addictive disorders, most clinicians today have embraced a medical model
as a way of formulating the underlying addictive disorder and the necessity for medical
treatment. This model views addiction as a disease, which is a pathological condition,
with specific signs and symptoms, and which causes pain and dysfunction. Diseases
may cause distress, social problems and, if severe and left untreated, may result in death.
Diseases can affect people not only physically, but emotionally as well, impacting overall
adjustment, mood, and personality. Addictive disorders meet all of these criteria: they are
characterized by specific signs and symptoms, cause pain, distress, and dysfunction, and
result in various social problems. The potentially catastrophic consequences of severe
addictions are well documented.

Perhaps most important, however, is that viewing addictive disorders as a medical disease
empowers people to seek treatment and reminds those suffering from the disorder, as
well as their families, that the disease can be brought under control. As is true with most
medical conditions, the recognition that a disease can be treated offers hope for all those
impacted by addictive disorders.

Jessi Molloy, LCMHC, MLADC
August, 2014