Addiction is commonly considered a disease. The addiction certainly behaves like a disease, and it’s debatable how much control one can have over it. Disease or not, the suffering is undeniable. The bottom line is that approaches to intervention of and prevention of addiction need to be reconsidered. This requires changing perspectives on addiction. The disease model creates a lot of scope for medical intervention. But it doesn’t help much in finding the root causes of addiction logic.
Drug addiction is a huge public health issue. According to the NHS’ Statistics on Drug Misuse 2018, 279,793 individuals were in contact with drug and alcohol services in 2016/17.
‘When a person is addicted, they’re suffering continuously. Their brain chemistry changes causing distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning. Even in the face of death, they continue to harm themselves. Family and friends of people who are addicted to drugs claim erratic changes in mood, behavior and perception. Many say their addicted loved one becomes an entirely different person.’
The Disease Concept
The disease concept is a perspective which has made access to professional healthcare easier than ever before on a worldwide scale. This concept of addiction is supported by the World Health Organisation and other healthcare bodies around the world. By treating addiction as a disease, a person can be treated as a patient, like with any other disease. As a result, they will receive the physiological and psychological help needed to bring about positive transformation in health and lifestyle.
But is there an alternative perspective? One that moves away from the disease model and provides the addict with a greater sense of autonomy over their body and mind?
Healing and Support
Jason Shiers, a UK Psychotherapist, believes that this disease model of addiction has been of great value in broadening the availability of help for people. He also believes there is also great healing power and potential for growth in the power of deep support and a shift in perspective on what addiction actually is. The disease concept, though beneficial, may also colour someone’s sense of self with shades of powerlessness or incompetence. It can foster a victim mindset. This in turn can lead them to believe that they are helpless.
If we change the understanding, we can change the approach. Let’s consider addiction to be not a disease, but a coping mechanism. Then the person and his/her support can focus on uncovering and healing from what it is that needs to be coped with, which is always a misunderstanding. This creates a bit more space for optimism in the persons sense of well-being. It also allows them to see their addiction from a new vantage point.
Shiers believes that if you are struggling with addiction and want to make a serious effort to get and stay clean, then the prevailing mental states that make you want to use in the first place are the place to look.
Addressing the Mindset
Behavioural changes, like abstinence from the substance, are of course useful. But they fall short in their ability to solely see someone through to full recovery. The mindset behind the reason for use is what needs to be addressed if lasting change is to occur. If there is a mental connection between stress, for example, and the use of a substance for stress relief, then the act of abstaining from the substance will result in a great mental struggle. This struggle becomes a fight, and takes place at the detriment of mental health.
If someone struggling was to tell themselves that they are not going to use, and then struggle with the need to, eventually giving in, they may be later met with disappointment, frustration, anger. Not to mention all sorts of destructive feelings towards themselves. By getting to the root causes and seeing the misunderstanding, with professional support along the way a deep sense of autonomy over their life and choices is developed. Changing perspectives on addiction really can be an attainable goal.