As with many other conditions newly labeled as disease, the science behind drug addiction as a disease is weak.
There are several ongoing efforts to prove that drug addiction is a brain disease. In fact, some are even saying it's incurable. This theory is following the path of many other conditions that were not illnesses until someone decided there was a good reason to call them that - the usual reason being money. True to form, some researchers pursuing this field are also looking into preventing and treating this new 'disease' with medication.
However, when it comes to drug addiction, there is more than enough evidence that it is not a disease, and is not incurable. People coping with someone who has a drug addiction problem should know the truth.
What are the arguments against the disease theory?
Most experts acknowledge that the brain is fine until someone actually takes the drugs. They take the drugs voluntarily, not because they have a brain disease and are thereby compelled to do so. The brain is then altered by the drugs and, if one gets addicted, it is apparently because they developed a brain disease.
People are buying into this theory despite the fact that the science is thin.
-The drugs don't affect everyone's brain the same way.
-The degree of effect varies.
-Of those who are affected, some get addicted and some don't.
With such variables in play, it would be impossible to develop a diagnosis or treatment protocol that's anything other than hit and miss - not unlike some of the other 'diseases' that have no or weak science behind them. Depression is a good example - two out of three people who take antidepressants still feel depressed - as are ADD and ADHD, and many others.
Sometimes the medications create the desired effects - which at best suppress symptoms - sometimes they don't. Whatever the result, the medications are always dangerous, many have side effects that require additional drugs to control, and many are addictive.
The 'incurable' label is obviously false. Millions of people have successfully overcome addiction - a good addiction treatment center, many of which have been in operation for decades, can get up to 70% of their clients off drugs, and some see hundreds every year.
Despite the holes, the disease theory will continue to be researched, as will medications to treat this disease. Calling it incurable will also be popular: something that can't be cured will probably have to be treated with medications or other therapies for the rest of the person's life. It offers a rare opportunity for a continuous source of revenue - something big pharma goes to great lengths to develop.
But it mislabels yet another of life's conditions and could inhibit people from getting treatment that actually gets down to the bottom of what is going on in the person's life that drives them to take drugs and helps them change those things so they no longer desire to take the drugs. And it only takes a matter of months.
Real treatment doesn't simply suppress symptoms, it cures the problem. Beware of drug addiction treatment that does anything less.
Gloria MacTaggart is a freelance writer that contributes articles on health.
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