I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of reading about addiction and recovery and after years of personal confusion and internal chaos I’m starting to make sense of some things for myself. When I attended treatment in 1988 the absolute most helpful thing for me was becoming educated on the disease of addiction. Today there’s tremendous debate about whether addiciton is really a disease or just a behavioral problem, which given the scientific findings, seems to me a somewhat ridiculous debate. People call it the “disease model” or “disease theory”, but again and again it’s proven that addiction has a hereditary, and thus a genetic, basis and that most addict’s and alcohlic’s brains and bodies are primed for addiction before they ever take the first drink or drug.
I firmly believe I fall into this category. I was never able to drink or use in any way that might be deemed “social”. I was hooked from the get-go.
However, I think we can’t overlook the fact that even if those genetic markers are not present, anyone can drink or use themself right into addiction. I also think that the presence or not of such markers can make a huge difference in how easily it is for one to overcome addiction and get on with the process of living.
The analogy is often made because it’s a good one: Diabetics can be born diabetic or they can eat their way into diabetes. But they’re both diseases whether brought on by genetics or lifestyle choices or both.
So I believe addiction is a disease. It feels like a disease to me. It manifests in my life as a disease process. It runs in my family and my experience confirms that my brain and body only needed that first use to wake the addiction up and get it going.
What I find most interesting though, in reading about people who have recovered, is that it doesn’t really matter whether they choose to see it as a disease or not. Some do; some don’t. About equal numbers of each go on to lead full lives of sobriety. So apparently what is most important is figuring out what you believe about it and using that to create a sober life.
I think it’s probable that more people who are like me, who started young and immediately had problems, will lean more toward accepting the disease than those who succumb much later in life. Again, the most important fact to me is that it doesn’t matter when it comes to recovering.
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