NOTE: This is the second article in our series on The Addicted Cop. If you have not yet read Part I, we recommend clicking on the attached link below.
Whether addiction should be considered a disease, a psychologically-based behavior disorder, the result of low character or poor morals, something learned and socialized into an individual, a bad habit derived from unchecked pleasure-seeking, or some other personal defect altogether has been the source of much debate. Among medical professionals and addiction specialists, treating addiction as a disease has become an increasingly common modality; that addiction is a disease is something many if not most of these professionals accept as a matter of fact.
To a layperson, especially if not intimately close to addiction, this may seem counterintuitive. Cancer is a disease. Diabetes is a disease. Getting addicted to something and remaining in its clutches is a matter of behavior, right? Well, consider this: It is true a lot of diseases we have absolutely no control over. A chromosomal glitch here, a toxic waste mishap there, and anyone can be at the mercy of the fates. However, many diseases are absolutely our own doing and even if the behavior that contributed to its formation is stopped before or once the disease is found, the disease itself remains. A lot of us, maybe even most of us, are born into this world and immediately start the decades-long process of rigging the time bomb that is going to send us right back out of it.
What you eat has a direct impact on your body and your wellness. Too much of an unhealthy diet (a choice and a behavior) can cause irreparable harm to the body (a disease). Once the disease is established it must be confronted both behaviorally and medically. Addiction is no different.
So let us start by reviewing just what an addiction is, using the definition cited in last month's article. An addiction is a chronic neurobiological disorder that has genetic, psychosocial, and environmental dimensions and is characterized by one or more of the following:
- the continued use of a substance despite its detrimental effects;
- impaired control over the use of a drug (compulsive behavior);
- and/or preoccupation with a drug's use for non-therapeutic purposes (i.e. craving the drug)
Now, while this is a very good starting point for understanding addiction, it is really only a very basic outline. First, it focuses on addiction to a substance, for instance alcohol, nicotine, or opiates. Some sort of drug. When we have usually considered the concept of addiction these traditional substances have been the culprits behind the cravings. As addiction has become better understood, it is apparent we may need to redefine exactly what we consider to be the addicting substances, and there are a couple different ways to do that redefinition. A bit more on that later.
Next, the definition does not really address the issue of withdrawal, long considered a an identifying characteristic of addiction. Anyone who has tried to break out of a true addiction knows the pain of withdrawal and how easy it is to just give in and go back, no matter the consequence. Why is something so potentially harmful so compelling, even after the harmful effects are being experienced? When we take away the addicts source of pleasure, why is the response not just a lack of pleasure but one of physical pain?
Finally, our definition does not answer the question Why? Why are certain things addictive? Why does an addiction develop in some people but not in all? Why are humans so often seemingly drawn to their own self-destruction?
The Reward System