Today we will look at why addiction is a disease and how we can be the carriers of this information to others. So that individuals suffering from it may come closer to the nonjudgmental help they need to recover.

Why Addiction Is a Disease

In 1956, the American Medical Association declared that alcoholism was a disease. Then, in 1960, the American Psychiatric Association said addiction was a disease. Scientific data was collected to draw these conclusions and tested to confirm that people met the criteria. Yet, many individuals—including medical providers—struggle with this disease concept today.

Addiction became recognized as a disease by meeting multiple criteria.

1. It Is a Chronic Condition

It does not go away, but it can go into remission if treated by not using alcohol or other drugs.

2. It Progresses

It is a predictable condition in the fact that it progresses.

3. From Use to Dependence

The progression moves from use (e.g., drinking with family and friends) to abuse (passing out, throwing up) to dependence (negative consequences begin to occur).

More like this: Alcohol Habit vs Addiction – How It Forms

4. It Has a Set of Symptoms

  • Isolation (so you don't know what I am doing)
  • Preoccupation (cannot stop thinking about, using, or going to use my drug of choice)
  • Negative consequences (loss of jobs, marriages, homes, children, money, lives)

More like this: The Painful Isolation of Addiction

5. Fatality

The last symptom is that the disease of addiction is fatal if not treated.

This final symptom is the one that usually gets the attention of the loved ones of persons with the disease.

However, they also struggle with the impacts of the earlier negative consequences. How can anyone help their family understand after they lost another job for going in drunk or high, or after they cleaned out the bank account to buy cocaine or pills?

More like this: One Pill Can Kill


College Assignment: Having Students Give Something up for 30 Days

I was blessed to be able to teach a Master's level class at a university several years ago. When the class discovered I worked in the field of addiction, they asked me, "Why can't your people stop using?"

I decided that leading by example was better than telling stories, so I assigned each student (23 in the class) to give up something they regularly did for 30 days. They could choose what to give up but not change this once the assignment began. Each one said, "No problem." They were told they had to write about each time they "relapsed."

After the first week, about 8 of the students asked if they could change their decision, and I, of course, said no since my people could not change theirs.

Students Noted Similar Behaviors to Addiction Disorders

At the end of the 30 days, no one in the class of 23 had made it without relapsing at least 3 times, and most had stopped trying.

They had tried to give up soda, chocolate, coffee, and Facebook—among others. Several noted similar behaviors to those with addiction disorders when they tried to stop.

  • "I could not stop thinking about chocolate."
  • "I got mad when my workmate ate cookies, and I couldn't stop watching her."
  • "I had trouble sleeping."
  • "I was angry and said that since I already messed up, I might as well stop trying."

Amazingly, they were all surprised that this could be so hard. Surely, they were not addicted to their things! I taught this course for 3 semesters, and this exercise produced the same results each time.

More like this: The Single Most Important Thing to Know When Detoxing

My College Students Changing Their Minds About Addiction Disorders

We, humans, perceive that we are different from others in our behaviors, but there are distinct similarities. After this experience, my classes were more open to working with individuals with addiction disorders. You see, it is not just about the alcohol or the drugs. Sure, they want to stop, and the people who love them want them to stop, but once they pass the line from abuse to dependence, things have changed and the 'off' switch is broken.

More like this: Loving Someone to Death: Supporting Recovery Without Enabling

Getting Help for Addiction at the Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine

The same thing happens to others with their repetitive behaviors, and we are often unaware of it. So if you happen to find yourself or someone you love in this dilemma, please work to learn all you can about the DISEASE of ADDICTION, so you get help if needed or give it to the person who needs it.

This disease is fraught with the stigma of shame. However, your love and/or acceptance may be the thing that can help someone back into the world again and allow them to be able to hold up their head. We are each the change agent in our lives, and if we can be the ally as well, then there is no end to the possibilities of recovery.

Judi Schmidt, LCSW

More like this: Taking the First Step in Your Recovery Journey