Choice vs Disease: Which One Should Addiction Fall Under?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Would anyone in their right mind choose to become addicted to drugs or alcohol? Well, it kind of depends on who you ask.

This question is charged with so much political, moral, scientific, and financial controversy that it’s become an explosive topic. Even in a room with barely more than two people, you’ll likely find differing opinions on the issue.

Evaluating Both Sides of the Argument

Answers to this question encompass a full range of facts and opinions. With that in mind, we’ll go over the most common arguments for each side. Once all the information’s laid out, you can decide where you want to set up camp.

No – It’s Not a Choice.

  • “It’s a disease.”Many scientists label addiction as a disease. They argue that those struggling with substance abuse have literally lost control. The disease has taken over their bodies and they no longer have a choice.

    The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug addiction as a “disease that will waste your brain.” Researchers who studied chemical dependency in rats and monkeys came to the conclusion that it’s a brain disease. They say the disease is characterized by a loss of control.

  • “It’s genetic.”Some researchers have also looked into genetic predisposition for substance abuse. Their studies of genetically altered fish have led them to conclude that genes predispose some people to addiction and loss of self-control. They report that the altered fish “lost their free will.”

Yes – It’s a Choice.

  • “It’s free will.”Many don’t accept the genetically altered fish experiment as proof that substance abuse involves a loss of free will. They argue if free will is no longer present, how do so many people quit? Some psychologists state that people “have more control over their behavior than they think,” pointing out that “addiction is a behavior, and all behaviors are choices.”

    James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, says, “People need to get rid of the idea that addiction is caused by anything other than themselves.” And many doctors agree with Frey, noting that a person can still choose not to take drugs, even if they’ve caused changes in the brain.

  • “It’s a matter of choice.”Researchers point to other experiments involving rats and monkeys as evidence that substance abuse is a choice. Rats given a choice between morphine and water made their choices based on their living environments.

    Monkeys bullied by other monkeys chose to use cocaine, while the dominant monkeys did not. Researchers note this is “just like the human world.” Individuals who feel a lack of control in other areas of their lives are more likely to abuse substances, as are those who have been physically abused. These comparisons suggest chemical dependency isn’t a disease that removes free will, but a choice (often chosen by those who are hurting.)

  • “It’s harmful to deny choice.”Some experts argue labeling substance abuse as a “brain disease” is harmful to those struggling with it. They say it sends the message that there’s nothing you can do about it.

    They also argue stigmatizing substance abuse shouldn’t be something we fear. It’s an unhealthy road for people to take, so it’s okay to say it’s a bad choice. Addiction expert Sally Satel asks, “Why would you want to take the stigma away? I can’t think of anything more worthwhile to stigmatize.”

Where Do You Stand?

What do you think? Are those struggling with substance abuse at the mercy of a disease that has taken away their free will? Do you believe they’ve chosen to embody a disease? Or is chemical dependency simply a behavior made up of free-will choices?

We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Additional Reading:   Addiction – Is it My Mind…Or My Body?

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