Is Addiction a Choice or a Disease?

The word 'addiction' is used often in society. People will hear that they can become addicted to everything from alcohol to video games. Although used frequently to describe simple habits and preferences, addiction is considered to be a very serious subject that requires therapy and the necessity for addicts to define themselves as literally out of control. But do addicts truly have no control over themselves? Both sides of the debate, which addresses whether addiction is a choice or a disease, have varying answers to that question. The group that defines it as a disease considers addicts to have no free will and no ability that comes from themselves to quit. The other group, which believes it to be a choice, states that addiction is created by habits and that affected individuals must take responsibility and have the ability to quit.

The dictionary definition states that addiction is a state of constant habit or practice to the extent that the termination of it will cause severe trauma. The word 'disease' is not mentioned. The concept that addicts suffer from a disease was born amidst the creation of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. This organization, according to their guide, states that the AA program was founded by 'hopeless drunks' in 1935 who wanted to bring people who suffered from the disease of alcoholism together. In order to be a member, participants must have a desire to rid themselves of their disease and follow all twelve steps of the program.

Step 1 requires that a person admits to being a hopeless drunk and Step 3 requires that a person say that they, under no circumstances, have the ability to overcome their addiction by their own free will. They must place their road to recovery in the hands of a higher power. This side of the debate contends that addiction is a disease because it creates changes in the neural pathways of affected people. They maintain that these altered pathways create a dysfunctional emotional state and increase compulsion for the habit. (

The choice side of the debate argues that these factors are not what define a disease and addiction should therefore not be placed on the level of actual diseases, such as cancer. The medical definition of disease is the abnormal, potentially harmful, condition of a system of the body that interferes with its vital processes. A person with cancer, for example, did not choose to suffer from this disease and has no control over its spread and no ability to simply make it go away. Doctor of Psychology, Jeffrey Schaler, writes that there is no empirical evidence supporting the claim that addiction is a disease and rather intended by the addict. He notes that addicts commonly monitor the consumption of the substance and plan the intake ahead of time.( Anyone who labors under the delusion that drug addicts are helpless to control or change their bad habits without "drug treatment" desperately needs to read his new book Addiction Is a Choice .

This is clearly behavior related to habit and shows that the addicts make the choice to consume the substance. There is no underlying force that causes alcoholics, for example, to pick up a bottle and begin drinking. The Clean Slate Addiction Site, an informative website aimed at dispelling false claims about addiction, reports that addicts do not have any physiological malfunctions as do people with true diseases. Brain scans that show highlighted portions of the brain of an alcoholic who is ingesting alcohol, do not prove that there are neurological forces making this person drink. Certain parts of the brain are activated during every activity a person performs and this is therefore not proof that only addiction causes changes in the brain.

The basis of the belief that addiction is a disease was conceived by the AA program and has no scientific evidence to support this claim. Opponents of AA and other 12-Step programs believe that these organizations can cause more harm to addicts. Forcing members to label themselves as hopeless and without any ability to help themselves, enforces the idea that addicts should not take responsibility for their addiction. They are shifting the blame by calling it a disease and telling themselves that only a higher power can save them. AA is a private organization and therefore its statistics are not available to the public. However, the 1989 internal report, the most recent AA research available, states that after twelve months, the success rate was 5%. The percentage of people who successfully quit on their own, without any help, is also 5%. AA is as effective as doing nothing. Source: this youtube video where Penn and Teller Investigate 12-Step program.

All of scientific evidence clearly proves that addiction is a choice. It is important to note that 'choice' does not mean quitting is easy. Anyone who has been personally touched by addiction can see that it is extremely difficult to overcome. However, it is important to recognize that addiction is a habit and a compulsion and that addicts have the ability to quit, unlike people who truly suffer from diseases.

Written By: Kimeko Neil, United States

Useful books on Amazon

Addiction: A Disorder of Choice

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice