Addiction: Disease or Choice?

Addiction: Disease or Choice?

Addiction Disease or Choice

There’s a prevailing negative stigma associated with substance abuse and addiction that muddles the issue of what addiction really is. Mainly, there are two camps of thought. On one side, there are those who believe that people who choose to use alcohol and other drugs are responsible for developing a problem with those substances. There are others who argue that there is something about the brain and brain chemistry of those individuals who go on to develop a chemical dependence. Let’s take a look at the debate.

Addiction: Disease or Choice

People who do not experience drug abuse or addiction, personally, and even some of those who do struggle with addiction believe that their problem is a “moral failing,” that it has more to do with them as a person rather than something that they don’t really have any control over.

You will often hear the terms “will power” and “self-control” whenever the topic of addiction comes up. How is it that some people become full blown addicts and alcoholics while others yet can drink and even use drugs and come away unscathed?

It’s true that the decision to take a drink or use a drug boils down to a choice that’s made by the individual. But is it really a choice to go down the dark hole of addiction?

Addiction: Disease Model

The current medical position on addiction is that it meets the definition of a medical disease in that it is chronic and requires specialized treatment, such as therapy, inpatient treatment, and/or outpatient treatment.

The DSM 5, (

which is the diagnostic manual used by physicians, refers to addiction as a disorder that manifests with certain characteristics, such as:

  • failure to fulfill major obligations at work or school such as repeated absences, poor work performance, suspensions, expulsions
  • Neglect of social duties and relationships, such as neglect of children, household, loss of relationships
  • Using alcohol or other drugs in situations that are physically hazardous, such as driving an automobile or operating machinery
  • Recurrent substance-related legal problems, such as arrests for substance-related offenses (i.e. DUI, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, paraphernalia)
  • Continued substance use despite these recurrent social or interpersonal problems

Other Working Definitions of Addiction

Addiction is also described as a chronic, progressive, relapsing disorder. What that means is this: it is a disorder that is ongoing, gets worse over time, and has a high rate of return to use, despite negative consequences.

Yet another way to define addiction is that it is marked by obsessive thoughts that lead to a compulsion to engage in a behavior, such as substance use, despite the negative impact it has on personal and professional relationships, and even on their health and well-being.

Addiction vs. Dependence

It’s important to make the distinction clear between substance abuse disorder, aka addiction, and chemical dependence, also referred to as physical dependence. Although dependence is certainly an aspect of addiction, it is also a separately recognized medical condition that has more to do with the physical nature of the effect of drugs. That is, when someone becomes dependent on a substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms as a result of sudden cessation. This will also be the case for someone who is in the grips of an addiction when they try to stop.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Recent statistics reveal that as many as 1 in 3 people are affected by addiction. The good news is that help is available. Call toll-free 844-422-6926 today for our Pompano drug rehab.


Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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