The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines addiction as compulsive use of a mind-altering substance despite adverse consequences. Scientists characterize brain disorders involving the use of drugs and alcohol as compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse outcomes.
In the field of use disorder treatment, the disease model of addiction is the standard today. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) support the disease framework. In 2015, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and George Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) co-authored a commentary defending the disease model.
The two NIH Institute Directors defend their position by referring to current research. They point out how current studies show that chronic exposure to drugs and alcohol disrupt “critical brain structures and behaviors.” Dr. Volkow and Mr. Koob also cite research indicating that heavy, prolonged substance use impacts brain processes associated with:
- Loss of control
- Compulsive drug taking
- Inflexible behavior
- Negative emotional states
Volkow and Koob’s commentary states that the modern understanding of addiction has led to several advancements. The disease model and a better understanding of the processes of addiction have led to the development of brain stimulation treatments, behavioral interventions, and effective medicines, including:
In their defense of the disease model, the experts go even further. They said the framework has also had a positive effect on public policy. While the accepted understanding of addiction has been mostly positive, some wonder about the impact it has on patients. Does calling addiction a disease adversely affect people with use disorders? New research attempts to answer that question.
Addiction is a complex disease of a complex brain; ignoring this fact will only hamper our efforts to find effective solutions through a comprehensive and systematic understanding of the underlying phenomena.” – Volkow and Koob (2015)
Alcohol and substance use disorder in the United States is an epidemic. Tens of millions of Americans struggle with the disease of addiction despite available treatments. Encouraging more men and women to seek help is vitally important.
There is evidence that many people do not respond well to messaging defining addiction as a disease. As such, they are less likely to seek assistance, according to research published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
Calling addiction a disease does not have an impact on the people conducting the research. However, there is evidence that the label may adversely affect those living with the condition.
Researchers at North Carolina State University compared the effect of disease messaging to a “growth mindset message,” a university press release reports. The latter says that human attributes are malleable.
Those who work programs of recovery and accrue long-term sobriety show us that people can change even though they have an incurable condition. With assistance, use disorder can be managed, and relapse is preventable. However, while the new study may be about semantics, the finding(s) could guide efforts to steer people toward treatment.
When we began talking about addiction as a disease, the goal was to decrease stigma and encourage treatment,” says Sarah Desmarais, co-author of a paper on the work and an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. “That worked, to an extent, but an unforeseen byproduct was that some people experiencing addiction felt like they had less agency; people with diseases have no control over them.”
Steering People Toward Addiction Treatment
The study involved 214 men and women with drug and alcohol use problems, according to the article. One hundred and twenty-four were placed in a growth mindset message group. The other 90 participants received disease messaging. Participants in both groups read articles that included the respective messaging.
Growth mindset enrollees read about the many causes of substance abuse and how to manage addiction. The disease group learned about the addiction-related changes in the brain. Participants in the growth mindset group were found to be more likely to seek treatment, compared to the disease message group.
“Overall, our findings support moving away from messaging about addiction solely as a disease,” Desmarais says. “It’s more complicated than that. Instead, the finding suggests that it would be more helpful to talk about the many different reasons people become addicted.”
Southern California Addiction Treatment
Alcohol and substance use disorders are treatable, and long-term recovery is attainable. Please contact PACE Recovery Center to discuss our gender-specific programs. Our clinically sophisticated approach can help you or a loved one make lasting changes.
We can also help men who have co-occurring mental illnesses accompanying their use disorder. Our highly trained staff will treat both conditions simultaneously to facilitate better treatment outcomes.