Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

  1. My daughter just asked me this question since she has a debate coming up with this topic for her Medical Sociology college class. It got me thinking ; and, I'm curious as to how others in our profession feel about it. By the way, she has been assigned the con position.
  2. Poll: Is Drug Addiction A Disease?

    • Yes

      55.26% 21
    • No

      23.68% 9
    • Depends

      18.42% 7
    • No Opinion

      2.63% 1
    38 Votes / Multiple Choice
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    About loricatus

    Joined: Sep '05; Posts: 2,006; Likes: 2,269


  4. by   VivaLasViejas
    YES, I believe addiction of any kind is a medical disease with psychosocial implications, as it is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. But NO, it does not mean one is not responsible for their actions, or that one can simply continue illegal, immoral etc. behaviors with impunity because they're "sick".

    I say this because I myself am a recovering alcoholic, ex-smoker, ex-pothead, and current overeater. Addiction is no different from cancer or heart disease: it's up to the individual patient to choose health over illness, and to accept and follow the advice given them by people who know more about their problem than they do. I would never have gotten anywhere had I not gone to AA to get my drinking problem under control; from there, I was able to go on and stop smoking as well. (I'm still working on the eating, but unlike every other substance, food cannot be stopped cold turkey. I've got a few things to learn here.) The important thing to remember, IMO, is that personal responsibility is the deciding factor in whether ANY disorder can be managed or cured.

    For example, the cancer patient must say Yes to nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and months of feeling lousy in order to complete a course of chemotherapy and thus have a chance at beating the disease. The patient who suffers an MI and wants to avoid another must choose to avoid the fatty foods that contributed to his heart disease, learn to exercise regularly, and take medicines that may affect his everyday life in unpleasant ways, from frequent bathroom visits and bleeding problems to decreased libido.

    Addicts cannot 'help' the fact that they were born with certain genes that make them prone to chemical imbalances, nor the fact that those chemical imbalances produce what is often called "the addictive personality". But that doesn't absolve us of the responsibility to work at getting healthy and become functional human beings; it's not OK to sit on our backsides and bewail the "fickle finger of fate" that makes it so difficult for us to resist chocolate, or whiskey, or methamphetamine. And it's definitely not OK to be a drain on society, taking more than our fair share in order to prop up dysfunctional lifestyles and continue our addictive ways.

  5. by   RN(MH)

    Intersting one this. Not sure I could put it under the category of being a disease though. Over here those with drug and alcohol problems are treated by the mental health services. (Although any medical complications as a result of drugs and alcohol are treated on the general side). We very often had people come in for detox. They would not go to a general hospital for detox. The community mental health team would follow up their care once discharged. Drugs and alcohol can and very often do, cause severe mental health problems, such as drug induced psychosis, alcohol induced dementia, therefore come under the category of mental health, and during the course of my work have very often found that general trained nurses do not understand this, and some of them do not wish to either, and many of those addicts are frowned upon. This is such a shame really, as it can happen to any one of us at any point in our lives. Drugs and alcohol are very often a coping mechanism, albeit a negative coping mechanism. I have seen people that once had fantastic lives reduced to wrecks through drugs and alcohol. Quite often this can relate to life events that totally threw them, and the only way they could cope was with alcohol etc. Often things creep up on people and they dont neccessarily at first realise they have a problem. And its not easy for everyone to stop the addiction.
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    Researchers today are treating addiction as a disease.

    I attended a conference via the net at MIT regarding addiction and I'll post the link below. One especially moving speaker was William C. Moyers, son of Bill Moyers the journalist. William was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine in the 80's and now works for Hazeldon. The whole conference was fascinating.

    Yes, I do believe that addiction to drugs and alcohol changes your brain chemistry so that your addiction can be likened to Type 2 Diabetes, which is usually caused by our eating habits and weight gain.

    However, I do not believe that excuses bad behavior on the part of addicts - like neglecting your children to get high, etc.

  7. by   onlyhope
    Not sure I could put it under the category of being a disease though. Over here those with drug and alcohol problems are treated by the mental health services.
    In my opinion mental illnesses are DISEASES... they are treated with medication, they are genetic in nature, and they affect millions, just like cancer, just like heart disease. No one ever chooses to be schizophrenic or bipolar or OCD or addicted... it just happens. Addiction runs in my family on my paternal side (along with CA and CVD- triple whammy!) and I have seen its devastating effects... i don't think anyone in their right mind would ever make the choice to waste their life drinking or snorting or shooting up.
    i think it is a disease process that creeps up on someone over time just like so many long term illnesses do.
  8. by   RNtoretired
    this is a really interesting question you post. i think that there are both yes and no are correct. i think that there are people that have medical in-balances that head them down the wrong path. i also think that there is a huge group that just had a bad up bringing and want to escape from the memories of the past.


  9. by   RN(MH)
    Yes agree this is an interesting post. i do think that we have to be very careful though in labelling drug and alcohol addiction as just a disease though, or we run the risk of the patient not necessarily being treated in the right way for them. Over here we now use the term substance misuse, rather than drug addict or alcoholic.
    Agree substance misuse is initially treated with medication, maybe due to withdrawal symptoms or substance related psychosis.
    However, we cannot treat people with medication alone and have to take the holistic approach to treatment. A thorough assessment of the persons life history, and events leading up to their admission/addiction is the most important thing to do. Then and only then can we begin therapeutic treatments (which can include medication). This could mean counselling (ie bereavement, gambling, etc). Other therapies can be CBT,anger management, family therapy,referral to a psychologist , the list is endless.
    Mental health problems cannot really be labelled as such, as each person suffers in an individual way. Depression for example is so different for each person, and it is not necessarily genetic. Depression can set in for many reasons, due to a physical illness, or general life events and extreme stress. Depression can also result in substance misuse as a way of coping with it. I dont necessarily feel that medication alone is what is required in this instance. Sometimes medication is not the answer either !! If we pump people with anti depressants all sorts of problems can occur, ie side effect, feeling of worthlessness and not being able to cope unless they have their pills.
    Its good to have other peoples opinions though, especially from those of you who are general nurse, and those from other countries.
  10. by   BSNtobe2009
    The law treats it as a catch-22. If you get caught at work being intoxicated or taking illegal drugs, you can legally be fired and there isn't any recourse an employee has.

    However, if you have a documented case of alcoholism or drug addiction, then you fall under ADA.

    I consider alcoholism and drug addiction (with rare exceptions), self-inflicted injury.
  11. by   RN(MH)
    Self - inflicted injury? Well in a sense yes it is as we do it to ourselves. However, all of society has to in some respects take responsibility. I have also met nurses who describe it as a social problem and dont like treating these people. Self inflicted it may be but we have to look at what led to the person being addicted, and the reasons why are not always self inflicted, ie abuse in younger life,assault,domestic violence, schizophrenia,bi-polar,divorce, bereavement, and many others.
    If we are to consider addiction as being a self-inflicted injury, then we have to consider many other things as self-inflicted such as the person who goes rock climbing and breaks a limb. They know it can be dangerous, but still do it.
    At times when people are in the depths of despair, alcohol, for example can be their only way out of feeling like that, even if it is just for a short time. When they sober up, reality hits and despair again sets in and they drink again, and so it goes on, until they canot get through the day without it, and it becomes a way of escaping their problems. Not everyone is able to face their problems and deal with them positively, hence addiction being a negative coping mechanism. Unless addicts get the help needed this will always be a problem to them.
  12. by   Sunny01
    according to wikipedia, a disease is defined as the following: "any abnormal condition of the body or mind that causes discomfort, dysfunction, or distress to the person affected or those in contact with the person. sometimes the term is used broadly to include injuries, disabilities, syndromes, symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts these may be considered distinguishable categories."

    my opinion is that drug addiction is not a disease in itself but it can lead to disease.

  13. by   Sean 91
    Even if, in the stretch of the imagination , it is not a disease, it brings on other ailments for which the pt is treated in the hospital, which can be:

    Mental illness (cause and effect)
    vitamin and nutrient depletion
    respiratory (smoking, pneumonia, etc)
    Hep C and HIV/AIDS possible
    cardiovascular degeneration
  14. by   SecondGenRN
    I work in an addiction centre and I personally believe that addiction is a chronic mental illness. That being said, I also believe that mental illness is just as important as any "medical" illness. I understand that the person chooses to pick up each drink (or substance) but it becomes a disease as much as the type II diabetes patient who chose to eat McDonald's daily for 30 years. In both cases the focus should be on helping the person cope with their disease and creating a healthy lifestyle. Also in both cases, the patient needs more than medical care to treat their illness. I've yet to meet an addict who used drugs/alcohol because they were happy with their life. Along the same line, I doubt many people eat a bag of chips just because they feel like it. These patients need education and quite often counseling to work out whatever problems initiated the behavior in the first place.
    Last edit by SecondGenRN on Feb 13, '07
  15. by   lauralassie
    Quote from BSNtobe2009
    The law treats it as a catch-22. If you get caught at work being intoxicated or taking illegal drugs, you can legally be fired and there isn't any recourse an employee has.

    However, if you have a documented case of alcoholism or drug addiction, then you fall under ADA.

    I consider alcoholism and drug addiction (with rare exceptions), self-inflicted injury.

    Then you could also consider heart disease, cad, some forms of lung ca to be selfinflicted. Just like any other disease they must take the disease by the horns so to speak to recover, that involves many different aspects of recovery.