Why do most people falsely believe that addiction is a disease? Are they all simply lazy and dishonest? No. While some are, I maintain that most are not. The confusion and error is created, in large part, by superficial similarities between addiction and actual diseases.
Here are a few clarifying points.
Many doctors and health professionals know the truth of them, but are afraid to say so because of political correctness. At this website, the truth always comes before fear of the opinions of others.
Superficial similarity between addiction and actual illness:
A person addicted to something feels he cannot control it. A person with an actual illness, such as heart disease or cancer, feels he cannot control it.
Heart disease or cancer can only be treated (and hopefully cured) with external intervention. You take a pill, or you submit to surgery, or you perform a task, and you hope the cure takes place. Addictive behavior will only stop if the addict stops doing it.
Left untreated, biological illness will worsen and death will possibly result. Left unaddressed, addiction will worsen and death (or financial destruction, or other disaster) will possibly result.
Medical treatment will possibly halt or reverse the illness. Only behavioral change, sustained behavioral change at that, combined with changes in attitudes and beliefs, will halt or permanently stop the addiction.
You go to the doctor to treat your illness. You go to the doctor, or to a similar medical setting, to treat your addiction.
The doctor will actually treat your illness through surgery, prescribing drugs, or some combination of actions on his part. The doctor “does” something “to” you in hopes of healing you. Whether you go to treatment centers for addiction, or not, the addiction is only going to stop through your own initiative. At the end of the day, you either continue to drink, use drugs, or engage in otherwise self-destructive behavior, or you don’t. Doctors and therapists can attempt to guide and support you, lecture you, threaten to call the legal authorities on you, talk about your childhood with you — but no matter what, you’ll be the one stopping or not stopping, at least once you leave the residential treatment center (assuming you’re in one.)
With addictions involving substances, such as heroin, crack cocaine or extreme amounts of alcohol use, there are physical symptoms requiring medical stabilization and/or treatment. The same is true with medical illnesses that don’t arise from substance abuse.
The resulting symptoms of addiction don’t change the fact that the symptoms arose from poor choices the person previously made. For example, when a person gets lung cancer due to smoking, we correctly label the lung cancer an illness, and treat it medically. We say, “The person has lung cancer because he smoked three packs a day for forty years.” We don’t say, “The person had the illness of smoking for forty years, and now he has an additional illness of lung cancer.” That would be ridiculous. It’s interesting how other abuses of substances get a free pass, while smoking does not. The politically correct medical and government authorities don’t hesitate to blame smokers for fouling the air and harming their own lungs. With smoking, people are correctly held responsible for their actions. This is because the politically correct don’t like smoking. But these same politically correct health and governmental authorities consider it cruel and unprofessional to even suggest that people who have medical illnesses arising from drug or alcohol abuse brought it on themselves.
People with addiction problems feel desires they wish they did not feel, and believe they cannot control. A person with an actual illness similarly feels pain and discomfort which he wishes he did not feel, and wishes he could fix himself (back pain, for example.)
The addictive person feels compulsions to do something — gamble, for example — and then acts on them. He might feel remorse or regret, but he continues to act on those compulsions anyway. It’s a choice every time he does so. Others with the same compulsions do not act on the choice. Even the current gambler might make different choices starting in a month, or a year. The back pain sufferer has no such option. He can attempt physical therapy or other medical procedures or treatment. These may or may not help. But he does not have the power to make the back problem go away by making different choices, unless medical science can come up with one for him. The addictive gambler must make different choices, however; only this will change the situation.
People wait for medical solutions to their addictions at their own peril, as well as the peril of their loved ones. If there’s a behavioral pattern you wish to change, only you can or ever will change it. Stop waiting!