Tuesday 14 January 2020

Addiction – a Disease, Choice or Cognitive Misunderstanding?

**Collaborative post**

There is no shortage of views about whether or not addiction is a disease – it’s a debate that divides opinion in the healthcare sector and wider society.   

Should we view all addicts as sick and in need of treatment? Or are there other ways to understand the underlying causes of addiction, which can sow the seeds for long-term health gains? 

Is Addiction a Disease? 

In the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies a wide range of disorders due to substance use and addictive behaviours. According to WHO, these ‘mental and behavioural disorders develop as a result of the use of predominantly psychoactive substances, including medications, or specific repetitive rewarding and reinforcing behaviours.’ They list disorders connected to the use of alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs, as well as behavioural addictions such as gambling and gaming disorder. [1] 

Despite these definitions, the debate continues as to whether or not addiction is a disease. Across scientific, medical, political and cultural spheres, the conclusions vary widely on this subject – from those who passionately defend public health budgets for addiction treatment through to sensational tabloid headlines about addicts as ‘junkies’, ‘zombies’ or prolific offenders.  

According to Jason Shiers, Psychotherapist at UK Addiction Treatment, it’s helpful to take a balanced view, putting people with addictive disorders at the heart of the debate. ‘Regardless of the opinion of organisations, modalities of treatment or individuals in society, the most important thing for the person suffering with addiction is the grounding of the helper, including compassion and understanding for the challenges they face. When it comes to addiction and recovery, one size does not fit all. At UKAT, we provide rehabilitation for addiction through the 12 Steps and our unique Strengths model, integrating a wide range of holistic treatments – because choice is vital to people’s empowerment and potential to transform.’  

The Psychological Keys to Addiction Recovery 

Do people recover from addiction by learning a set of tools and techniques, which they apply consistently to manage their ongoing disease? Or is recovery from addiction more about understanding how the mind really works? 

Jason Shiers explains: ‘Both approaches have their merits and they can have greater or lesser relevance at different stages of recovery. For example, if you’re just out of rehab and you have a strong craving to use heroin, it’s pretty helpful – possibly life-saving – to have a plan in place for what you’ll do. Whether you call a peer in recovery, go to an addiction support group or seek immediate counselling, these strategies prevent relapse without any doubt. But, there’s another level of insight available, particularly as addiction recovery progresses – and that is detachment from over-identification with our thoughts. When we begin to recognise that our wellbeing is not dependent upon what is passing through our mind at any given time, then we no longer need to medicate or distract ourselves from the ‘dis-ease’ of troubling thoughts or emotions. With this awareness, the motivation to seek out repeated ‘fixes’ from addiction falls away or disappears altogether.’ 
Read more on the subject of whether addiction is a disease here – including an in-depth discussion of solutions to addiction.  


**This is a collaborative post. **

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