Right now, most people think of addiction as a disease. This idea has largely been popularized by AA. The idea is that people who struggle with addiction are physiologically unable to resist whatever they are addicted to. Fighting addiction isn’t a matter of willpower, according to the disease model, because addicts have a disease that renders them powerless against alcohol and drugs. Using willpower to beat addiction would work about as well as using willpower to beat diabetes. And like diabetes, addiction is thought of a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured. There is some value to the disease model. First, it has largely displaced the old model, which is that addiction is a moral failing or a character defect. According to a recent poll, about 40 percent of Americans still hold that view. The disease model is not only more accurate than the ‘moral failing’ model, but it also promotes the belief that addiction requires treatment rather than punishment. The disease model has problems of its own though. For example, unlike diabetes, there is no physiological abnormality associated with addiction–at least none we’re aware of. There are genetic markers associated with addiction but they don’t necessarily cause addiction the way producing too little insulin causes diabetes. Critics say that an overreliance on the disease model gives too much power to the medical establishment–especially pharmaceutical companies–and too little power to the people struggling with addiction. A different, relatively new concept is that addiction is more like a learning disorder. Typically, we think of learning disorders as a kind of deficit. Some people have trouble learning because they have poor concentration, difficulty recognizing letters, or difficulty grasping abstract concepts. Addiction is slightly different because when you become addicted, you essentially learn the wrong things too well. Most people know that dopamine is somehow related to addiction, but they typically assume it has to do with pleasure. Actually, dopamine has to do with learning. When your dopamine spikes during a pleasurable experience, it’s so you can better learn the behaviors that led to that experience. Common experiences like food or sex increase dopamine about two or three times normal levels, but heroin or cocaine might increase dopamine to ten times normal levels. In other words, from a chemical standpoint, you learn drug-seeking behavior very well and very quickly. What’s more, it’s very hard to unlearn, and it gets harder the longer you use. The good news is that you can unlearn that behavior. Studies have shown that motivational approaches work very well in some cases. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has also proven effective for retraining the mind to work differently. The success of these approaches indicates there may be something to the idea that addiction is more like a learning disorder than a disease.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Recovery Ways is a leading addiction treatment provider with an excellent recovery rate. Our expert staff includes masters and PhD level therapists and board certified addiction psychiatrists. Our comfortable facilities will help to make your treatment as enjoyable as possible and our therapists use proven techniques like sensory integration and recreation therapy to help to engage the world without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Call us today at 1-888-986-7848 or email us through our contact page to learn more.