There is an ongoing debate on whether addiction is a disease or not. Most medical associations will define it as such – including the American Medical Association. Others, however, consider it a consequence of poor choices and that addiction can be broken with willpower alone.
There is much evidence of both biological, behavioural and environmental issues that may lead someone to a life of addiction. We will now explore the causes of addiction further and consider whether these causes are due to poor choices or something out of the user’s hands.
Correlation Between Mental Illness and Addiction:
There is a strong correlation between mental illness and addiction. According to the Orlando Recovery Center, about half of all addicts have been diagnosed with at least one mental illness. It can be argued that those with mental illness are unable to make rational decisions about drug use and may use drugs for self-medication.
Most illicit drug use starts in teenage years. In the British Drugs Survey (2014) 64% of participants stated they were under 18 when they first began taking drugs. Those under 18 are not fully developed enough to be able to make rational decisions and fully understand the consequences for their future.
Biology of Addiction:
After the first time, someone takes drugs their body takes over and keeps them coming back for more. Addictive drugs release a lot of pleasure chemicals in the brain. Over time these chemicals change the way the brain’s pleasure and reward system works. It will take more of a drug for the individual to feel happy. Going without the drug will cause the individual to experience withdrawal symptoms. This hijack can take any choice a user may have had away from them. They may desperately wish to stop but the withdrawal symptoms are too severe to comfortably stop drug use.
Although there are users that may have made poor decisions in their lives that resulted in addiction, many drug users are victims of mental health or were introduced to drugs at too young of an age to truly understand the consequences of drug use. Regardless of whether or not addiction is a choice, it is a problem that severly affects thousands of people worldwide and the focus of conversation should be on prevention and recovery. The choice aregument is ultimately irrelevant.