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Does the word “Disease” hurt recovering addicts?

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Should We Still be Calling Addiction a Disease?

Drug addiction is a disease, according to the doctors and psychiatrists throughout the medical community. Even the DSM has categorized addiction as a chronic disease. It wasn’t until recently that the general public also began categorizing addiction as a disease, which is better than previously labeling it as “lack of willpower or self-control.”

The hope among public-health officials has been that the disease model will decreases the moral stigma that traditionally surrounds addiction, and instead will help those suffering to stop blaming themselves and get professional help. However, in new research it has been suggested that this framework could be having unintended negative consequences.

Regardless of if we call addiction a disease or not, we must work to get those suffering the help they need.

The results of this new study suggest that, for many people who need help, “I have a disease” translates to “there’s nothing I can really do about my addiction,” or “it’s out of my hands.”

The new study was done with 214 Americans with substance-abuse issues. Of the 214 participants, 90 read an article about the fixed nature of addition, with a focus on parts of the brain that lead to the disease. The article quotes a Stanford University researcher as saying that addiction “seems to be a fixed quality, remaining fairly stable over a person’s lifetime.”

The other 124 read a similar article that stressed the potential to change, with quotes from experts that believe drug and alcohol addictions can be managed with “time and effort.”

The participants then answered a series of questions about addiction, and indicated on a one-to-five scale the likelihood that they would seek help, in which the results reported that those who had read the second article were more willing to try counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy. The research also suggested that members of the two groups expressed very similar levels of self-blame.

For someone addicted to alcohol or drugs thinking, “I’m to blame” can be detrimental to recovery, however “I’m diseased” can be as well. The number of people dying due to the opioid epidemic continues to climb, which is why it is so important to encourage people to seek treatment instead of blaming them for there willpower or a disease. Getting people clean and sober is an urgent task. If you or someone you know is struggling, seek help immediately.