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Drug Addiction; Does Evidence Support it as a Disease or Not?

Updated on August 2, 2013

Addiction is such a powerful word. The single word can evoke strong and varying emotions. The most controversial and widely debated area of discussion within this topic is weather addiction is a true disease or simply a choice made by the nearly 40% of our population (Lewis, 2012). It is considered a mental disorder by many organizations because of its physical effects on the human brain and the behavioral changes that occur. Scientific research has also been done to prove that it is a disease and possibly a genetic disorder. On the other hand, the way a person recovers from the addiction is an indication that it is not a disease.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines an addiction as a mental disease that causes a person to want to continue to take a drug, even when it is causing harm. Their website explains that the brain sends out the signals that control the actions and choices that a person makes. Drugs change the chemical makeup of the brain which then changes the way a person acts, makes decisions and feels. Addiction is not a spontaneous disease. It is one that is created after a person chooses to take the drugs. Once the addiction is set in, the changes in the brain can become permanent. A proper recovery not only takes the will of the addict to quit, but a stable psychological treatment.

There has been extensive research on addiction. The idea that it is a brain disease is not just an opinion. Stephen Dewey of Brookhaven National Labs claims that addiction causes chemical changes that literally take over the brain (Stossel, 2012). He speaks at schools, showing brain scans from various people that show just this. The brain is completely changed when drugs are introduced and it continues to change as the addiction persists.

Tristan Darland, a researcher at Harvard University believes that addiction is a genetic disorder (Stossel, 2012). Darland put a pad of cocaine on the side of a fish tank and observed a group of fish that would continue to hang out in the area. A second test was done on the same type of fish but they were bred without a specific gene. This new group was resistant to the cocaine pad. Darland concluded that addiction is something that people are genetically predisposed to.

Lewis argues that addiction is like a disease, but is not one. Recovery of an addiction is something that is the decision of the addict. The person must choose to be clean and free of their addiction. A true mental disorder is not something that an individual can choose to leave behind. The road to recovery is “a change in their motivation to obtain the substance of choice, a change in their capacity to control their thoughts and feelings, and/or a change in contextual (e.g., social, economic) factors that get them to work hard at overcoming their addiction. (Lewis, 2012)” A person cannot simply choose to get rid of a disease and because you can with an addiction. Therefore, Lewis believes that it is not a mental disease.

There are many opinions and facts when it comes to addiction as a disease. The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the research of Stephen Dewey prove that the human brain is physically altered by a drug addiction. These changes are so dramatic that they can be considered disease causing. Testing done by Tristan Darland gives us evidence of addiction being a genetic disorder. There are many people that believe the opposite. A person chooses to become an addict and chooses to become clean. Overall, the best research and testing brings stronger evidence to the table that addiction truly is a disease.


Clark, Josh. "How Addiction Works" 12 September 2007. <> 26 March 2013.

Lewis, Mark. “Why Addiction is NOT a Brain Disease” 12 November 2012. < > 26 March 2013.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Addiction Science” December 2012. <> 27 March 2013

Stossel, John. “Is Addiction Just A Matter of Choice?” 21 April 2012. <> 27 March 2013.

What do you believe addiction is?

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      Haven House sober Living 4 years ago

      I think drug addiction is not a disease ..We have to guide, educate & rehabilitate these youngsters and if we succeed in doing so, we can easily fight with drug addiction in society ... I strongly feel if we change the subconscious mind of these addicted people , we can easily overcome this scenario..

    • StitchTheDamned profile image

      StitchTheDamned 4 years ago from Clifton Park, NY

      That is wonderful that you have found something that helps. Keep your head up! The road to recovery is definitely a hard one, but look at what you have accomplished already! I must look into that medication some. I'd like to do some research on it. If this is something that works as you've said, then it just helps prove my point that addiction is a disease.

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      Sara 4 years ago from Anywhere!

      I have been in recovery for a good amount of time now. I take Suboxone for opiate addiction. People always tell me all the time that I just replaced one drug with another. I don't feel as if I did that, and I never quite understood it. Then the other day at treatment, the difference was told to me... In addiction there are negative behaviors. If you are taking a medication for addiction like Suboxone, and your life is improving and you are able to start correcting your negative behaviors, then the Suboxone is doing its job. Then it is compared to someone who is a diabetic and takes insulin. That diabetic isn't considered to be a insulin addict. That person is dependent upon that drug to stay alive. It is true for Suboxone, I maybe dependent on it to stay in recovery for the time being, but I don't have the urge to over take it, I am able to work and be a productive citizen, be a mother to my children, and correct my negative behaviors. I am in recovery with the help of a drug. Based on that, I really think there is more to addiction then many know. I know that my addiction is controlled with a medication and I have never been better. Will I ever be able to go without it? I don't know yet, but maybe with plenty of "exercise" and "eating right" I will be able to one day no longer have to take Suboxone, and then again maybe no matter what I do I will always have to take it. I would rather take a little Suboxone for the rest of my life then to ever go back from where I have come!

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      R A Lovelace 4 years ago from Portland, OR

      Thanks for this Stitch! something we recovering fight/face every day and something completely misunderstood by most of the normies out there. Great piece! Ray..