Addiction, or substance misuse, is undoubtedly a complex issue affecting millions of people worldwide, and it often creates significant challenges for the individuals experiencing it and their loved ones. It is something we see a great deal of at The Beekeeper, and we thought it deserved some attention in an article.
One common and often controversial debate surrounding addiction is whether it should be classified as a disease or a mental health issue. In fact, it has become so controversial that some believe the word “addiction” in upon itself is no longer a helpful descriptor, however for the sake of ease, in this article we will stick with the commonly used word. While both perspectives recognise the detrimental effects of addiction on an individual’s life, there are wildly varying opinions about the underlying causes and potential treatment options. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into this topic and explore the arguments for both sides, to shed light on this important issue and provide a slightly deeper understanding of addiction.
Introduction: What Is Addiction?
The question of whether addiction is a disease or a mental health issue is an ongoing debate in the medical and mental health communities. Some experts consider addiction to be a chronic brain disease that alters the brain’s structure and function, leading to compulsive drug use or substance misuse. Others view addiction as a mental health issue, with underlying psychological factors contributing to these compulsive behaviours.
Advocates of the disease model of addiction point to research that shows long-term drug use results in changes to the brain’s reward system, making it difficult for individuals to control their drug use. They essentially argue that this alteration makes addiction a disease rather than a choice.
However, opponents of the disease model argue that addiction is not solely caused by neurological changes and that psychological, social, and cultural factors also play a significant role in the development of addiction. They argue that treating addiction as a mental health issue allows for a more comprehensive approach to addressing the underlying psychological and environmental factors contributing to addictive behaviours. While the debate over whether addiction is a disease or mental health issue is ongoing, what is clear is that addiction is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires comprehensive and personalised treatment that speaks to the needs of each person, rather than a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approach. Something The Beekeeper keenly advocates for, which is a unique approach that addresses the distinctive needs of individuals when they come to us for support and care.
What is the Disease Model of Addiction?
The disease model of addiction supports the idea that addiction is indeed a disease rather than simply a mental health issue. While addiction may have mental health components, such as depression or anxiety that can drive substance misuse, the disease model emphasises the biological and physical changes that occur in the brain of an “addicted” person. It recognizes that the repeated use of drugs or alcohol fundamentally changes the way brain circuits function, leading to compulsive drug-seeking behaviour and an inability to control drug use. They also point to the ‘disease’ having physical manifestations or symptoms such as ill health.
Critics of the disease model argue that it focuses too much on the biological aspects of addiction while overlooking the social and environmental factors that may contribute to it. They assert that addiction is more than just a brain disease and should be viewed as a complex interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors that come together in individuals in unique ways.
Despite these critiques, the disease model of addiction has become the dominant paradigm in addiction treatment and rehabilitation. It has informed the development of evidence-based therapies such as medication-assisted treatment and behavioural therapies, which have proven effective in treating addiction. The disease model of addiction recognises that addiction is a complex, multifaceted condition that requires a holistic approach to treatment, but many argue there are still limitations to this model or approach.
Arguments Against the Disease Model of Addiction
One of the primary arguments against the disease model of addiction is the lack of scientific evidence to support it. While addiction is often characterised as a brain disease, there isn’t a great swathe of empirical evidence to support this claim, in fact many argue there is a dearth of evidence. As discussed, critics argue that addiction is better understood as a complex interplay between physiological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Moreover, the disease model has been criticised for its oppressive nature. Opponents argue that labelling addiction as a disease implies that the individual is not responsible for their behaviour and that they have no control over their addiction. This view can create a sense of hopelessness and disempowerment for individuals struggling with addiction, or at worse an abdication of responsibility which can impede clinical outcomes for treatment.
Another important argument is that the disease model of addiction creates misconceptions about addiction that can be harmful to society. The model infers that addiction is a chronic, lifelong condition that cannot be cured. However, this is not always the case, as many individuals recover from addiction and go on to lead healthy, fulfilling lives and are able to develop healthy relationships with substances such as alcohol in moderation. A position that is at odds with the disease model and it’s proponents.
Addiction as a mental Health Issue: Examining Comorbidity
There is much debate about whether addiction is a disease or a mental health issue. The traditional disease model of addiction posits that addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that affects the brain. This model emphasises biological and genetic predispositions to addiction and suggests that addiction is an incurable disease that requires lifelong treatment. In contrast, the mental health model of addiction suggests that addiction is a behavioural disorder that arises from psychological and environmental factors. This model focuses on the interplay of social and environmental factors such as trauma, poverty, lack of social support, or stress management.
Despite the different models of addiction, it is clear that addiction is a mental health issue that needs to be addressed in a holistic manner. Both biological and environmental factors play a role in addiction development, and it is essential to provide support for people who have a substance use disorder. Comprehensive addiction treatment should consider all aspects of a person’s life, including mental health, physical health, social networks, and environmental factors. Effective treatment should include a combination of medications, counselling, support groups, and wellness activities to help individuals achieve long-term sobriety and mental health.
In conclusion, whether or not addiction is considered a disease or a mental health issue depends on the individual’s perspective or, in laymen’s terms, what you find the most helpful from your own perspective. Which might change over time as you grow into your recovery. From a medical standpoint, addiction is categorised as a disease due to the physiological changes that occur in the brain as a result of substance abuse (or misuse). However, from a mental health perspective, addiction can also be seen as a symptom of an underlying mental health condition, or set of unresolved issues.
Ultimately, regardless of how addiction is categorised, it is crucial to treat the individual as a whole person, addressing both the physical and mental aspects of their addiction in order to achieve lasting recovery. It is important to recognise that addiction is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive and personalised treatment approach to truly address the root causes of the behaviour. The nuances of treatment for substance misuse are, of course, debatable. However, what is clear is that we at The Beekeeper understand these nuances and consider them when developing a treatment plan.