Addiction is a Disease, Not a Moral Issue

Past Misconceptions About Addiction

For thousands of years, addiction has been a part of the human experience. Unfortunately, it was originally considered an issue of morality, not health. Today we know that addiction is a disease, but in the past, this was not the case.

When people became dependent on a substance – whether it was opium, alcohol or a stimulant – this was seen as a shameful shortcoming.

For example, in the 1800s, drunkenness was a sign that a person had the potential to be criminal or violent. This perception of deviance would eventually lead to the temperance and prohibition movements, which sought to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States. They would eventually succeed, enacting a 13-year-long period of nationwide Prohibition. While this policy was in effect, it was incredibly challenging for alcoholics to find social support and treatment. They faced criminal consequences, along with incredible stigma and isolation.

In the years afterwards, science, public opinion and addiction treatment have all made great strides forward. Today, thanks to numerous studies and new pieces of legislation, it is widely accepted that addiction is a disease.


Today’s Understanding: Addiction is a Disease

More than a quarter of a century ago, the American Medical Association recognized addiction as a disease. This has impacted healthcare, access to treatment and public perception of substance abuse around the world.

The disease model of addiction asks us to understand five major truths about substance abuse:

It is chronic. Addiction shares many features with chronic illnesses like type II diabetes and cancer. These include the tendency to run in families, environmentally influenced onset and course and the ability to respond to treatment.

It is progressive. Like the conditions mentioned above, substance abuse doesn’t just go away or get better over time. It requires effective therapeutic intervention from clinical professionals.

It is a relapsing condition. Relapse rates are similar for substance abuse and other chronic illnesses. The relapse rate for drug addiction is 40 to 60%; the rate for hypertension is 50 to 70%, and 50 to 70% of asthma sufferers will relapse without proper upkeep.

It is a brain disease. Addiction isn’t all mental; it physically changes the body. Imaging studies have indicated that there is evidence of tissue malfunction in the brains of addicted people, just as those with heart disease have damage to their hearts. 

It is treatable. With the proper care, it is possible to break the cycle of addiction. Read on for more information about the treatment of substance use disorder.


Addiction is a Disease. Treatment Works.

When people hear that addiction is a disease, their first reaction may be shock or discouragement. In fact, this diagnosis has a major upside. Like high blood pressure, diabetes or other chronic conditions, addiction can be treated and managed over time. This means that with positive lifestyle changes, it is possible for people with substance use disorders to live long, healthy lives.

There is a wide array of addiction therapies available, and they should be combined based on an individual’s unique needs. This approach is referred to as an individualized treatment plan. Popular treatment for addiction includes…

Primary treatment. This may involve medically supervised detoxification, as well as residential or inpatient programming. During a person’s time in these programs, all traces of drugs and alcohol are removed from their system. They also participate in stays of at least 30 days, during which they benefit from individual and group therapy. Research shows that a longer a person commits to treatment, the better their outcomes will be.

Outpatient programs. Those who require more flexible scheduling may choose an intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization or fully outpatient program. Individual and group sessions are available, and individuals may work through their addiction with clinical professionals.

Aftercare. Once primary treatment and outpatient programming have concluded, many people benefit from continuing care services. Case management, drug testing and ongoing therapy sessions are often recommended to ensure accountability and sustained sobriety.

Specific therapies used in the treatment of addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), art therapy, equine therapy, experiential therapy, adventure therapy, music therapy and more.

Now that we understand that addiction is a disease, we know that people can (and do) recover.


Help for Addiction in Middle Tennessee

We understand that when your loved one becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is challenging to see their condition for what it is. It may be tempting to blame them or to wonder why they can’t just control themselves. We hope that knowing more about the disease model of addiction will help you to more fully understand their behavior and need for treatment.

Cumberland Heights is a treatment center with more than a dozen locations throughout the state of Tennessee. Our highly trained clinical experts are standing by to help you and your loved ones to address a substance use disorder. For more information, please contact our admissions team.