Addiction: The disease that lies
July 26th, 2011
04:13 PM ET

Addiction: The disease that lies

Marvin Seppala, M.D., is the chief medical officer of Hazelden, a private not-for-profit alcohol and drug addiction treatment organization.

I learned of four addiction-related deaths this weekend. Three were people I knew in Portland, Oregon, recovery circles and the fourth was Amy Winehouse.

Tragically one must get used to such news if you spend a lot of time with those who have this disease. Whenever someone with addiction dies, I grieve the lost potential and wonder about the limitations of our ability to address this cunning, baffling and powerful disease.

I am also humbled by my own experience with addiction and recovery, and grateful for the help I received.

It seems nearly impossible to believe that people with addiction would continue to use drugs and alcohol to the point of death, but that is what people with addiction do:  They  deny both the consequences and the risks of using. As we continue to learn about addiction, we’re understanding  more about  why addicted people behave the way they do. But that’s little solace for friends and family.

Addiction is a brain disease, and our knowledge of it has expanded significantly, which has informed our treatment programs and altered our perceptions. We know that addiction resides in the limbic system, a subconscious part of our brain that is involved with memory, emotion and reward.

We refer to this area of the brain as the reward center, as it ensures that all rewarding or reinforcing activities, especially those associated with our survival, are prioritized. The reward center makes sure we survive by eating, drinking fluids, having sex (for survival of the species) and maintaining human interactions.

In late stages of addiction we can see how reward-related drives, especially those for survival, are reprioritized when people risk their families, their jobs, even their lives to continue to use drugs and alcohol. The continued use of the drug becomes the most important drive, at a subconscious level and unrecognized by the individual, undermining even life itself.

When a methamphetamine-addicted mother makes the nightly news after neglecting her children for four days while on a meth run, we can’t comprehend how anyone could do such a thing and tend to think she does not love her children. She may have been going out for groceries with the intent to return home and feed her children, but ran into a dealer and started using.

Addiction took over, and she was driven by subconscious forces even though she loves her children as much as I love mine. Her love and her natural instincts to care for and nurture her children were overridden by her own brain, the reward system  reprogrammed to seek and use drugs at all costs. Unbeknownst to her, drug use has become the most important thing in her life.

When we witness the incomprehensible behaviors associated with addiction we need to remember these people have a disease, one that alters their brain and their behaviors. We tend to believe we all have free will, so it is difficult to understand how the addicts' perception has been so altered as to drive them to destruction.

We also assume they can make their own decisions, especially when it comes to help for their addiction. In so doing we are expecting the person with a diseased brain to accept the unacceptable, that the continued use of drugs is not providing relief from the problem - it is the problem, and they need to stop that which has become paramount.

They are unable to make such decisions because their brains have been altered to prioritize use of the drugs, even above survival itself.

Relief of psychic pain, the real, unimaginable pain of addiction, is part of the problem. People have many reasons for seeking relief from pain; some pain precedes the addiction, but most pain is the result of the addiction.

The addicted neglect their primary relationships and they may lie, cheat and steal to continue drug use. And they know this at some level, they recognize their uncontrolled behaviors, but they can’t change, they can’t stop.

Hopelessness becomes a way of life. Self-loathing, shame and guilt become the norm as the consequences of continued drug use accumulate.

They use drugs to ease the pain, but the very remedy exacerbates the problem. The answer to their dilemma goes unrecognized due to the neurobiological changes that have occurred in their brains.

The good news is that treatment is effective and specifically designed to help people recognize the problem within. Most people are coerced into treatment for one reason or another; they may be facing legal issues, job loss or divorce.

With good treatment their likelihood for recovery and abstinence is just as good as the minority who seek treatment of their own accord. Unfortunately, less than 10% of those with addiction recognize they have it and seek treatment.

This is the primary reason people don’t seek help. Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.

Every one of these deaths is tragic. They died of a disease that lies to them. Amy Winehouse had incredible musical talent that enthralled the masses, but she became known as much for her struggle with addiction.

We can safely watch such a tragedy, gawking as we drive by the destruction, insulated from the suffering and unable to help. But addiction is all around us and we need to respond to the rising death toll.

All of us are responsible for learning the truth about addiction, raising awareness and intervening for those who have this disease, knowing they are unlikely to be able to do so for themselves.

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soundoff (361 Responses)
  1. Bud

    The biggest lie that Satan told was, "I don't exist."

    The biggest lie that Addiction tells is "I'm a disease."

    July 27, 2011 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • casey

      What the hell is that suppossed to mean? That addiction is merely a choice?

      Do you think that addicts like the fact that no one close to them trusts them? Or that they like to lose their teeth? Or that they lose custody of their children?

      No, but by the time the seriously bad side effects of drug use kick in, it is to late and you have lost yourself into the DISEASE of addiction.

      July 27, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
    • William

      By calling it a disease doesn't that suggest it be covered by medical insurance? I always thought of it as a self-inflicted injury...an intentional long-term poisoning of ones body.

      July 27, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
    • vtrweasel

      At least get the quote right you dolt. What are you drunk?

      I have Alcoholism, you wan to see who knows more about it, me or you?

      July 27, 2011 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
    • Speny

      William ... "I always thought of it as a self-inflicted injury..."

      Yep, its a "self-inflicted injury" ... just like obesity, some forms of diabetes, heart disease from sedentary living, lung cancer, emphysema, .... on and on and on

      July 27, 2011 at 19:32 | Report abuse |
    • ARMYofONE

      Funny, it all boils down to will power in a sense. But hey, we all love to blame things these days. Kid does not listen?? ADHD or ADD, so give him some of these drugs etc. LOL What a joke.

      July 27, 2011 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
    • Amelia

      Is this is a disease? I sit here and wonder this: "Maybe most of us who choose not to touch drugs in the first place might have this disease as well. We make the healthy and educated choice in the first place not to even touch them, knowing that even with greatest will-power, we may never get out of that negative spiral". Most people who suffer from depression, which is also a disease, often caused by the consequences of other people's actions on them, seek treatment and choose to help themselves. Why is it that in this country, everyone who makes bad choices in their lives, always has something, somebody else to blame? Because our systems let them as well as our mentality. Isn't it time everyone owns up to their actions and choices? What happened to morals, to self-respect, to positive behavior? I don't get padded on the back because I lead a life full of positive choices, centered around the well-being of my children and the people that are a parto f my life. Why is it that our society is always rewarding someone who has been "clean" from alcohol, meth, cocaine etc,......
      Here is a "newsflash": "Don't touch that stuff in the first place" and let's stop giving people so many chances and ways out of their own mistakes.

      July 28, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse |
    • U.S.Army-OverLord

      My dad drank and did enough drugs for both of us... he died in prison. I made the decison not to touch the stuff. If you can't handle drugs don't get involved in the first place. This "disease" has a cure... Prevention

      July 28, 2011 at 11:53 | Report abuse |
    • Al Kaholic

      I love to see all these people get ticked at you Bud, for telling the truth. Drinking IS a CHOICE. Once one becomes an alcoholic, or drug addict, now they are promoting some grandiose sympathy, in many cases so they can assuage their own guilt about bad choices. Also, many get SSDI or SSI or some other gubmint (sic) aid since they are now "diseased." What a crock. You make bad choices, you suffer the consequences. You either get help, rehabilitate, or you just become another parasite upon society. People who are brutally honest will ALWAYS tell you, they made the choices, and they were bad choices, but the ultimate cure comes from within, when they finally have had enough crap in their lives to change...or else they die from it. End of story.

      August 10, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
  2. sam

    ANd one would think that with all the Death And Destruction ALCOHOL Causes and the Lives it ruins 24/7 they would stop advertising it,And Hit it with a Big Tax,And Hold Alcohol LIABLE for all the slaughter 24/7 on our higways......They never get sue,But yet the Lesser of the ewo eveils,Gets TAXED TO DEATH,BANNED,No Advertsing when ALCOHOL costs the usa $280 Billion a YEAR just for its use in DEATH,Disases,and Destruction..Go Figure...But with smoking not doing any of the ABOVE nor Killing Others they GET ATTACKED as if it were a PLAGUE

    July 27, 2011 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      Despite all the deaths caused by alcohol people who drink live longer healthier lives than those that don't. And they spend less on health care. Complain all you want about alcohol it has a net positive effect on society. The same can not be said about tobacco products.

      July 27, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
    • casey

      @Robert. People who drink live longer? Tell that to the fifteen thousand or more Americans that die every year from diseases they got from drinking, never mind the alcohol related accidents. Smoking kills roughly 450000 people a year so it is far worse statistically.

      July 27, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • Gordo

      I smoked pot regularly in the 70's and 80's' quit for about 15 years because of drug testing, now retired and still smoke occasionally with old friends. Pot addictive, my ass, whoever thinks that probably believes it's roots still grow to hell.

      July 27, 2011 at 17:49 | Report abuse |
    • Jimmy

      Robert: Wow you are a moron. Alcohol has a net positive effect on society? Yeah it does a great at filling up jails, psych wards, and morgues. You truly a idiot. Are you drunk now?

      July 27, 2011 at 18:14 | Report abuse |
    • Speny

      Robert ..."people who drink live longer healthier lives than those that don't."

      I'm guessing that your use of the word "drink" means in moderation, and does NOT pertain to people whose use is obsessive, compulsive, harmful and remorseful.

      July 27, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      Alcohol has a net positive on the individual who partakes in moderation throughout their life, especially the more ancient alcohol drinks like red wine, and yes those people tend to live longer than individuals that abstain. Lower blood pressure, lower stress, possibly even some radical anti-aging compounds.

      BUT ... to say that that percentage of people overbalances all of the harm done -today- with children who drink at young ages, and often far more at a time than any adult, or the adults who chronically abuse themselves and others is a very strong and probably indefensible statement.

      Historically? Absolutely. Alcohol was a first for pain killing as well as food preservation. We would not be where we are today (is that necessarily a good thing though?) without alcohol. But today we have alternatives for every benefit alcohol produces.

      Note ... I am not saying we need to abolish alcohol! I produce the stuff (mead and distillates) and absolutely don't want to give up my passion. In moderation and at the appropriate age, alcohol is a good thing ... and there are plenty of other things that can be abused that are far worse. But to make a blanket statement that it is better for us today than it is bad for us is pretty hard to justify.

      If I could ... would I give up my hobby and anti-stress drug of choice (1 to 2 drinks in the evening every other day can do wonders for calming nerves and lowering blood pressure)? Probably, if it meant that everyone currently abusing alcohol today were not to do so. I believe that plenty of alcoholics would not resort to other drugs as the feeling they are trying to obtain is significantly different than those from, say, Oxy. So I guess overall I see alcohol as more of a bad thing for society than an on-going positive.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse |
  3. April

    This is the kool-aid society is will to drink because it absolves addicts of personal responsibility. We're all born with proclivities to certain destructive weaknesses, but that doesn't mean we can say that indulging them isn't our own fault. There is no medical science to back up the disease theory. It's just spin. A mother who leaves her kids alone while she's out getting high doesn't do so because she has no ability to stop herself. She does it because she's a bad mother. Telling someone they are hopeless to get a grip doesn't make them feel better. In fact, it leaves them hopeless. If we were supposed to be tolerant of addicts' selfishness, then why do those who interact with addicts day in and day out, such as those in NA and AA, apply strong measures such as tough love that refuse to tolerate addicts' selfishness? This article is just ridiculous.

    July 27, 2011 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Deborah

      April. I hope you never have to find out first-hand how wrong you are.

      July 27, 2011 at 14:19 | Report abuse |
    • D

      How do you know they don't?

      July 27, 2011 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      It's frightening how many people think like you do. You have no idea what you're talking about, and when someone is as prejudiced as you, to try to use reason and medical research is pointless.

      July 27, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • casey

      I hope you don't get hurt in some kind of accident and are forced to take pain killers. If that happened you might just find out first hand how easy it is to get addicted and how hard it is to break addiction.

      You are very very wrong, and I hope you don't have to find out how wrong you are.

      July 27, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
    • vtrweasel

      I'm a member of a 12 step group and I think there should be another one for people like you.

      July 27, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
    • Ty

      All of you people on here obviously know nothing about addiction, and have not done any research before you opened your big fat mouths. Actually there is scientific research that does show alcoholism and addiction are a disease. That alcohol addiction is passed down from generations, and that peoples brains react differently to one or two drinks. Some people can't pick up a drink and just have one. They have to get totally wasted and can't stop drinking until that happens. While others can have one or two drinks and take the third or leave it. They have done studies in all sorts of ways and have come to the conclusion that alcoholism and addiction are diseases. If you read the doctor's statement you would see that he said addiction lives in the mid brain (your subconscious), that is why people with addictions find themselves using when they had no intentions of using drugs or alcohol. Like the doc said, " The mother might have been on her way to get groceries for the kids and ran into a drug dealer." What she didn't realize is that her subconscious(the disease) sent her that way because that was the most likely thing that would happen. The DISEASE is very patient and will wait for you to mess up the one time and strike. This has been studied. So next time you open your mouth please make sure that you know what the hell you are talking about. TY, Recovering alcoholic/addict

      July 27, 2011 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
  4. patty

    Addiction ruins everything around you, family, friends, work etc. I come from parents who are alcoholics and a brother who is a drug addict. He has an estranged wife and two children. He is unable to provide for himself let alone his children. We have tried everything for the last 20 or so years and nothing has helped. He has been in jail. I believe his brain is altered. But, how much can you do. He will not help himself, he lies to all of us (his mother and siblings) our mother is an enabler. We are not wealthy people but we all work and get by. (some of us barely) and all he wants is for us to give him money. Any time he manages to get a job he always has some story about how the guy cheated him and didn't pay him. So I am done. I can't even begin to explain all the lies, stealing and heartbreak over the years. He is in denial and the problem is everyone else. He is always saying I know, I know. But he doesn't know and for the other readers who think family that finally says enough is not compassionate!!!!!!!!!!! You have not lived in our shoes. We have to take care of ourselves
    (Yes I said ourselves which include other family members and our own children.) Not waste long hours searching in dangerous drug neighborhoods, give him cash, rent, food, cars etc. and you know what, he doesn't appreciate any of it. It is poor him. It ruins more than just the addict it is killing his family.

    July 27, 2011 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • livinlife420

      Patty...you are 100% correct. I am sober addict for couple of years now. Addicts care about their next "high"
      We need as a society to stop making excuses for people....We cannot control other people.....offer support but if they dont want it...remove your self from THEIR behaviour

      July 27, 2011 at 15:03 | Report abuse |
  5. Gordo

    Sam, you are talking about smoking pot not being harmful aren't you, you surely aren't saying tobacco isn't harmful.

    July 27, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Liz

    Some of these comments are ridiculous. MM – you say "please stop blaming the addict for how miserable you are" -are you serious? Try telling that to the innocent children of these addicts. I grew up around addicts. My dad was a loser alcoholic who chose his vodka over his family. We struggled as a result. Do you know how it messes with the children of alcoholics heads that their parent loves their liquor more than them? I still struggle with esteem issues as a result. Addiction is NOT a disease. That is a cop out and an excuse for the irresponsible and weak people who take that first sip of alcohol or first hitof heroin. It's time these addicts take the responsibility of the pain and damage that they are not only causing to themselves, but to their loved ones. Bottom line – addicts are weak and they chose their addiction....I in no way whatsoever will feel any sympathy for these losers.

    July 27, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M


      Sounds like you could use some therapy. You might have some unresolved issues around your father and family. I hope someday you can find peace with that.

      July 27, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse |
    • vtrweasel

      Sorry you had a messed up father but that doesn't mean you know s*** about alcoholism or addition as you clearly do not. Seek help before you mess up your kids too.

      July 27, 2011 at 19:16 | Report abuse |
    • Kelly

      Liz–Yeah you really have some unresolved issues with your family. Yes addiction does cause a lot of problems for people, but there is scientific evidence to support the addiction as a disease, it changes the way the brain solves problems and reasons. I'm not saying you need to enable addicts but if you really love someone you help them through the addiction not writing them off completely and calling them a loser. Addiction can be seen in many things not just narcotics. Addiction is complicated and not so black and white that these people are lazy, or weak as you said. Everyone has their weaknesses. Addicts can only be treated if they themselves choose to be, they need to over come the mental battle and its not our job to do it for them. Its our job to support them emotionally.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:10 | Report abuse |
    • sj45

      Liz: Bottom line – addicts are weak and they chose their addiction....I in no way whatsoever will feel any sympathy for these losers.
      I applaud your ability to cast summary judgement on everybody with an addiction problem! What a loft place you live in.
      I hurt my back at work 15 YEARS AGO. At the time, it was just simple vicodin. Then I had surgery. The surgery failed to "fix me". So more doctors, more pain meds. More doctors, more pain meds. This started out as a solution to a problem. It is now the problem. I have been operated on six times. Pain medication started out as theraputic. Then it creeps into something your body physically craves. Then, you have company's like Purde Pharmacutica (the makers of OxyContin) who got busted for lying to congress about the fact that they were putting some chemical into the drug that made people seek more of it. THAT IS WHY OXY became the killer it is known as today. Purdue paid a fine, the CEO and CMO paid fines for lying to congress and removed whatever they put in the formulary to make it more adicitve and life went on for those two men. But, they left behind a boat load of "CUSTOM MADE DRUG ADICTS" I KNOW, I AM ONE OF THEM. Don't you dare tell me that I am a loser or it is or was my fault for getting hurt and seeking treatment. Is it all Purdue's fault; probably not. But, where can you find it in you to make a blanket assessment that all users are losers? You obviously need to "walk a mile in my shoes"!!!

      August 9, 2011 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
  7. livinlife420

    Just a thought? Ever wonder why here in America we have so many emotional issues? Do you think it is society or do you think we have become "its alll about me"" society...or do you think MEDIA has a way of making excuses for how we suck as people..:)

    July 27, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ran

      to Livinlife – I think it is also a factor that modern lives have different priorities than ever before. Society has now evolved to the point where average people are no longer worried about where the next meal may come from, or that they have to store up for the winter. Our lives are more focused on 'self actualization' and leasure activities, of which intoxication is one of the most popular. But NO I think it is a choice – not a disease.

      July 27, 2011 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Maybe it's because this is one of the only countries where it's truly every man for himself. In most countries, if a catastrophe or illness strikes, you're not going to lose your house or job because you got sick. Here, most people who go bankrupt do so because of medical bills. We make people lose their homes before they are eligible to get Medicaid. Whenever someone tries to change things, everyone screams "socialism! socialism!", yet we have socialized medicine for Veterans and the elderly with no problems.

      July 28, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse |
  8. livinlife420

    Don't make excuse for being a "bad " mother/father/husband/wife/daughter/son Human
    You are making a choice of yourself and "ur goood" feelings over the people that love and care for you

    July 27, 2011 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. livinlife420

    Or it simply could be that this is Evolution at work......either way...u only have control on what you do.

    July 27, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. livinlife420

    Why are we doing more drugs drinking more alcohol and smoking more pot than ever before? Esp. when we are finding out more how addicted brains work? Seems like a crock of mamby pamby idealism that people don't control their self....And YES I have been addicted before...not disease....choices!

    July 27, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nick

      Wrong. Marijuana is not addictive.

      July 27, 2011 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
    • vtrweasel

      Stats plz on "more than ever before?"

      AA started in the 30's and there's mention of addiction in the bible. Nothing new just more media now.

      July 27, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse |
  11. livinlife420

    No different than piling in loads of fat and calories.....do u really need to weigh 400 pounds? Addiction is addiction....You are using outside stimulus to make you feel better! For whatever the reason! I don't see the benefit for the "war on drugs" the making people think nothing is their fault...all the psycho analytical crap ...all the while society(mainly americans) thinks everyone owes them something....ridiculous

    July 27, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Denise Krochta

    This information is still quite discouraging but true. Too many deaths. Still not enough people talking about it. It is a community problem, not just for "them".
    As the Dr says, we all need to promote awareness. Please check out the following links to what I try to do to promote awareness. There is much more needed!



    this is all just to support those who love these addicts and alcoholics to navigate through the day to day drama and chaos.

    July 27, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Fred

    I recommend the book, "Under the Influence" to those of you who insist that addiction is a choice. You will learn, among other things, that only 5% of alcoholics are hopelessly lost, which Patty's brother appears to be (and she's right that at some point you DO have to divorce yourself from him). Also, it is estimated that 10% of Americans are alcoholics, and as much as 25% of lawyers and judges. Alcoholism is an insidious condition, which hardly ever hits with the first drink; it's a very long term- process. Genetics play a part (Inuits and Native Americans are extremely susceptible, while Jews and Mediterraneans are less likely to become addicted, possibly because of the centuries of weeding out the bad genes. No doubt there's somebody you work with who's an alcoholic, and you'd be shocked to know that fact; "They are SO normal; they CAN'T be!"

    July 27, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hermom

      I have read this book 4 times as I watch my daughter struggle with alcohol addiction. I found the information comforting and enlightening. I, too, recommend it highly to anybody touched by this awful, awful disease.

      July 27, 2011 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
  14. Melina319

    "Addiction" is such a ridiculous concept. We have free will. I'm a smoker. I choose to smoke. I'm not blaiming my bad habit on some disease. Granted, I might have a disease in the future b/c of it, but that will be my fault if that happens. When did we all start making excuses for bad decisions? Grow up, take responsibility, and stop whining!

    July 27, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fred

      You ARE addicted. Who in their right mind would CHOOSE to smoke, given the medical evidence?

      July 27, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse |
    • Melina319

      No, Fred I'm not "addicted." I make a choice. It's a bad choice, I'll grant you that. And when I decide to quit that will be my choice as well. I know quitting will be difficult, not b/c I have a diseased brain, but b/c giving up something you enjoy is always difficult. I dont need you or society to make excuses for me and I think it's time we stopped making excuses for others who screw up their own lives and the lives of those around them.

      July 27, 2011 at 16:11 | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420

      Melina you are funny and true! It is not a disease in my mind either....but it is an addiction. Anytime you put artificial substances in your body it becomes "used" to that substance. That being said...the physical withdrawl is what is difficult......FRED....addictions come in many different forms......Food is one of the worse....talk about a strain on healthcare....obese people actually do get DISEASES from their poor choices..ie: diabetes, strokes heart disease on and on

      July 27, 2011 at 16:22 | Report abuse |
    • Melina319

      livinlife420 – if you are the same person who posted about your experience with hydrocodone earlier, I'd like to applaud you for making the decision to stop your destructive behavior. That must have been difficult and I think you should be proud of getting back on the right track, so to speak. And I especially appreciate that you made the choice on your own to stop and followed through instead of blaming society or a "disease."

      July 27, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420

      Melina...yes thats me a recovering Addict..... You dont have to applaud me...I am just being a responsible Human!:)
      Although I still would LOVE to smoke a cigarette! LOL

      July 27, 2011 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • ER RN

      Yes, we do have our own free will, but, as a nurse, I will tell you, that addiction grabs ahold of you just as much as cancer, heart disease, or any other illness. You can't just tell cancer, I'm done with you...it's the same with addiction...as much as most of these people want to, THEY JUST CAN'T LET GO without help and alot of it! They don't need enablers, but they do need understanding. The LAST thing they need is judgement by others! Their low self esteem and contempt for themselves is already enough to make them feel worthless, and judgement only increases the risk of them giving up and not trying to obtain help.

      July 27, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  15. Judy

    I am a recovering addict, I was homeless to 2 years I left my daughter with my mother, while I roamed the street up for days at a time and when I would sleep it would be anywhere from a cheap sleazy motel to a porter john. I have been clean 19 months, I'm safer, healthier, and happier. My mother died on my one year clean date, I have my daughter, work for a doctor and go to school two nights a week. But there is not a day that goes by that I don't want to use, I wake up at least 3 nights a week because of using dreams, the thoughts are always there, so if its not a disease can someone please tell me what it is?!!

    July 27, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • livinlife420

      Judy...I do not feel like it is a disease. What I do think is it is normal to continue to want and dream about whatever substance u were using...Time will take away the cravings maybe not the want but that is where you need to realize that You control your life..Stay Strong! Its not just you...its your kid and now you don't have mom to take care of her for you...that is your job. Not being harsh...just saying from one addict to the other...Its all up to you on what your wanting out of life! Peace

      July 27, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Oh, yeah. If somebody can just decide to stop, they're not addicted, although they may think they are.

      July 27, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • vtrweasel

      Congrats Judy, keep up the good 'work'

      @ livinlife420, dude, just because you "feel" one way about addiction doesn't make it so. Do us addicts a favor and go smoke another one cuz.

      July 27, 2011 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
    • jester34

      @judy -addiction absolutely IS a disease as defined by EVERY credible medical association in the United States. I can't believe I have to keep repeating this. Don't simply listen to what uneducated although well-meaning posters here have to say to the contrary. I can tell (obviously) that you have access to a computer and therefore I highly recommend you look up some research on addiction -a good place to start is the American Medical Association web site or even the World Health Organization site (both just a google click away). Learning about the disease is truly one of the best ways to combat it. Hold your head up, things get better -just not all at once, and there will surely be setbacks along the way, but many others have succeeded and you can too.

      September 14, 2012 at 00:12 | Report abuse |
  16. Kathy Leuckel

    I find it very fascinating that those who believe that addiction is not a disease have no medical or scientific background. It was an MD who wrote the original article of this blog. I am a recovering addict who also happens to be a registered nurse. The scientific evidence is what has determined that addiction is a disease. For those who believe that being an addict is choice you really do not understand brain chemistry. I am not excusing the behavior but the cause of it is much more complex that most people know. Once I got clean I was able to follow a program of recovery and learn how to live without the use of drugs and alcohol. While I was in the throes of my addiction, I was not capable of making any choices that made sense. "livinglife420" is trying to apply their personal beliefs to something that the medical community has determined is a disease. Thank God that those in recovery programs understood so that I could get the help I needed and recover.

    July 27, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • livinlife420

      I just stated what worked for ME!! not you ....me. Read my original post...
      I am also a Registered nurse...BFD! Scientific evidence does not PROVE that this is a disease.I am not arguing that it is an addiction and needs counseling to find out underlying problems on coping skills
      Disease is not something you have control over.....So when I quit hydrocodone My Disease was Cured?
      Again Something controllable

      July 27, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
    • livinlife420


      Hello...this is just my opinion on how I dealt with my addiction to hydrocodone. I was a nurse for 22 years, needed dental work and was prescribed hydrocodone for my pain. As more dental work was being performed, I started becoming "physically addicted" to hydrocodone. Thoughout the next year I started taking more and more pills because I liked the way they gave me "energy" (albeit false energy). At the end of my dental work and that year I was full fledged hooked. I resorted to buying them off the streets and eventually ended up taking them from work. Of course i was in denial I had a problem.....Eventually over the course of the next five years...I lost my nursing license(and rightfully so). I tried several programs and even used Suboxone to help with withdrawls. I still returned to taking pills. My take on this is it is not a Disease ....a disease is something YOU have no control over. We as addicts...use because we like the feeling! Now I am not saying there arent emotional issues that NEED to be dealt with in order to learn healthy behaviour on how to deal with LIFE....In my opinion your hands dont control your brain. I have been off of hydrocodone for 3 years now....It is like anything we ingest in place of dealing with problems. But I am a firm believer in IT is Mind strongness! My mind controls my body.....stay strong Addicts!

      July 27, 2011 at 17:14 | Report abuse |
  17. Judy

    Fred, I did not just decide to stop I was in jail for some time then house arrest then went to a treatment center, then my mom got sick and it was no longer about me. I don't know what it is I never really considered it a disease but there is no doubt that it is an addiction, I needed a hit to wake up every day to go on it was an incredible feeling of need. We all feel things differently so I'm sure thats why some people can stop and others never do. Plus I can honestly say without a doubt in my mind that if I did not have my daughter and my mother died I would never be sober another day in my life... That would be my choice, triggered by my addiction ending in death.

    July 27, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Judy

    Kathy I'm glad you got the help you need to.

    July 27, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Judy

    You too livinlife420

    July 27, 2011 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • livinlife420

      Judy....here's to you staying strong and loving that little girl!
      You are doing all the right things for yourself and will one day look back and be glad you chose the path of responsibility
      Peace to you

      July 27, 2011 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
  20. Judy

    Thank you, livinlife. My child is my reason.

    July 27, 2011 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Speny

    Here's something I ran across on alcohol addiction I found interesting...

    "[In the human body] alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde (toxic), then acetic acid (vinegar), then carbon dioxide and water. In an alcoholic, a small amount of acetaldehyde is NOT eliminated; instead it is used to manufacture tetrahydrolsoquinoline (THIQ) in the brain, which is found in heroine and is highly addictive. THIQ stays there. As it piles up, the alcoholic crosses over a line, becoming as hooked on alcohol as he would have been on heroin."

    July 27, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. livinlife420

    To Vtrweasel You are obviously someone who needs to hear it is a disease to either A relieve yourself of your doings or B: Relieve your mind that a loved one "cant help it"
    You are on here telling people what to think and critisizing their opinions
    Thats what makes this a blog moron....we all have opinions! just like assh0les!
    If you read my original post I have every right to have an opinion on this subject!
    Take responsibility and grow the F up! You probably blame ur childhood for all your screw up in life! Yes Addiction has been around since the beginning of Man....Why is it suddenly a disease? Excuses! I have all the Empathy for an addict.....doesn't mean that we just excuse and excuse choices!

    July 27, 2011 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • patricia

      Hi I haven taken the liberty to write to you as I believe you can understand my plea. My son 22 years is now in jail for violation of probation. His drug of choice the blues , has been taking oxies since the age of 17 – Have tried everything to help him and over time have lost my mind it seems, all the money is gone – house is in foreclosure , and I owe money to everyone around me, There is a bond he begs me to let him out.. But am afraid to find him overdosed somewhere. What do you think ? He has court in a month to see if he can be transfeered to a government drug treatment facility .. Anyway any advice you can give will be appreciated. Thank you

      August 28, 2011 at 08:51 | Report abuse |
  23. Karen

    What if you intervene for someone who can't help themselves but it doesn't work? No matter what you do, nothing changes. Then what?

    July 27, 2011 at 22:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. TheLeftCoast

    Many, if not most, addicts are dual diagnosis ~ that is, they have a mental illness in addition to addiction. 25% of Americans have a mental illness, which complicates the addiction tremendously.

    July 27, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Mike

    Personally, I don't know what to believe anymore. Pharma, alcohol, and tobacco companies all know that there products are highly addictive. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a disease. Many people, a couple in my family are now addicted to medication. These people know what there products bring to people and families, yet they still continue to sell there products. Is it really a disease or just greed...

    July 28, 2011 at 02:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mitch

      I knew you Big Pharma people would pop up. While some medications are addictive when misused/abused (by the patient), not all are. When was the last time you heard somebody going into rehab for their addiction to Simvastatin? If you're looking to find an appropriate place for linking products and "greed," please throw in the majority (I do not claim all) of homeopathic/"alternative" cures... hell, even Coca-Cola for that matter (it can make you fat! Oh, and some of their products have caffeine... I hear that's good stuff, too).

      August 8, 2011 at 04:41 | Report abuse |
  26. roy

    the author of the article is bias to the religion of AA. Claiming that we are powerless over alcohol and drugs and attempting to make self-will sound like a negative reality is AA's way of "proving" that I need a god to rule my life. AA does not work. Self-will does.

    July 28, 2011 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Name*jonny

      This might just be the most ignorant nthing ive ever read.

      August 7, 2011 at 01:41 | Report abuse |
  27. Mom

    Instead of cutting each other up about who's right and who's wrong and who's the smartest, maybe we should unite to fight for our rights against the powers that put us all at such risk for the love of money. Who is REALLY at fault? Who makes the biggest profit? I know who pays the biggest price. I've lost my two children to Oxy addiction. I blame the government who approved of the mass distribution of this dangerous drug, the doctors who prescribe it to everyone without question, and the companies that made this stuff and pushed it so liberally. Now that Pandora's box has been opened who will be able to shut it? I think a class action law-suit is in order against the all those involved in the peddling of this product. A product originally intended only for patients on their death bed because of its lethal properties. The pharmaceutical company that made the poison should be forced to produce and distribute the anti-dote at their own cost. The government should pay the legal fees and compensate the victims and their families and the doctors should go back to school. I am not an addict, but don't tell me I don't know pain.

    July 28, 2011 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. DriverB

    Here's an analogy: Imagine you are a Greyhound bus driver on a regular, incredibly boring, long-distance route - straight down a flat interstate with nothing to see but corn for hundreds of miles. You do this every day. But, you have a satellite radio with hundreds of channels to keep your mind occupied, so it's usually not so bad.

    Now imagine another driver on the same route with his own seemingly identical bus. But after some time on the job, whenever he turns on the radio for a while, the bus malfunctions. It doesn't make sense. The windows fog up, or the steering get tough, or the brakes or gas fail. Before long he has crashed the bus several times, often hurting himself, or stranding passengers, or totalling it. When he receives another bus from the company, the problem persists, and no one can give him a solid answer as to why he keeps experiencing this problem. For a while he just doesn't turn on the radio, but it gets monotonous. So he tries in little spurts, which seem to work fine. But inevitably he ends up in the ditch again.

    He talks to driver A, who criticizes his driving. Driver B complains, my bus goes haywire, I don't know why. Driver A, never having experienced this problem, scoffs. Our buses are identical he says, it must be you. Or just don't turn on the radio anymore...

    So it's a little silly but, though I almost understand the position of all the high-minded Driver A's who posted here, you may not get it. It is not simply "will" or "morality" and it is certainly not simple. Is the term disease? I find the cancer comparison thin personally. Allergy, syndrome, affliction? I don't know. But I am sure it is real in a very physical, psychological, spiritual all-encompassing way. The bus has changed. Some Driver B's may be selfish jerks. But many do love their passengers, do want to be good drivers as much as anyone, but the corn and the road get to be too much. They find themselves reaching for the radio. Obviously the solution is learning to live without it.

    I have a rich family history of alcohol problems and I always thought it was at arm's length. For many many years alcohol use was never an issue for me personally.Then something started to change. I wasn't any less moral or loving. But I've crashed my bus too many times, put my passengers in fits. I've lived without the radio for periods but it's very hard–and, with alcohol espeically, they can't take out the radio. The knob is always in arm's reach.

    The bottom line is this is a complex issue, requiring a range of solutions for everyone affected. Some people may not deserve a second chance, some may deserve a thousand. But those who make blanket judgments, on either side, are usually attending to their own belief systems, not the actual problem or people in need.

    July 28, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Judy

      Driver B-
      I LOVE your post I got so much outta it, I am a B driver also and the way you explained it made so much sense, it just goes to show that unless you are an addict and have taveled the same roads we have you can not even begin to understand what we go through on a day to day basis. Thank you, I'm happy to share my road with you.

      July 28, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • DriverB

      Hi Judy, thanks, glad it made some sense to somebody! Sorry about your mother and good luck with your little girl. I have a young family as well, so I know also tensions are higher, stakes are higher, escapism desires are higher, but also their needs are higher, their dreams are important... I am trying to use those positives as much as possible to imagine something better, sounds like you are too. Best to you.

      July 28, 2011 at 17:25 | Report abuse |
    • Mitch

      At first I did not enjoy this analogy, but it has grown on me. Treating addiction and recovering from it are complex each on their own. Pain (for example) is only comparable to one's very own perspective/experience/history of pain. Pain is not capable of being fully visualized by others, nor fully measured at the given time, which is why it is so difficult to treat (Driver A doesn't drive Driver B's bus, and Driver B apparently has a really bad mechanic.) Doctors must trust their patients are taking Rx's as written, just as patients must trust their doctors are doing what's most beneficial to the patients' well-being (treating source, symptoms while pro-longing and improving life). It truly is complex.

      Although I am kinda curious, what is Driver B's auto insurance like after so many crashes? Must be quite high!

      August 8, 2011 at 04:58 | Report abuse |
  29. anonymous

    I am actually a step mom of children who experienced this same thing with their real mother. I agree the disease of addiction does make us to stupid things that we don't mean to do, but when comes a point when enough is enough for the mother to stop. These children have adapted to all the using behavior and thinking it is okay to use. They are old enough to know better, but because the mother was constantly putting in negative environments the children have to live with the consequences.

    Yes, there is a cure and people do recover, but at the same time what about the children who were effected by this disease. I feel like just because there is a cure, doesn't mean its okay for the destruction that has been caused for many years.
    Recovery is a process and not a destination. People who suffer from the disease of addiction still have to pay the consequences. Without consequences why would anyone change?

    July 28, 2011 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. David

    I wonder how many of you people have actually "used" before? Take it from a former junkie. People use because they want to use, not because they have to. I am over 10 years clean now and quit immediately when a good friend of mine was found dead with the needle still in his arm. Calling addiction a disease is the ultimate copout.

    August 8, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. greg

    There is ignorance and there is compound ignorance. An ignorant persom Just doesn't know.
    One that has compound ignorance doesn't know they don't know and that person is dangerous.
    Many people making judgmental comments just don't know that they don't know.

    September 3, 2011 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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  33. WeDoRecover

    Great insightful article and very interesting comments. Made for very good reading. What many people fail to realise is that addiction is a lifelong illness and that recovery from it is a lifelong process.

    June 26, 2012 at 06:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jester34

      @WeDoRecover -addiction is a spectrum disorder not necessarily a lifelong illness. For every person you know who actively maintains a presence in traditional recovery groups out of perceived necessity (due to the need to treat what AA and NA call an "incurable terminal condition that can only be arrested/ treated never cured") there is one who has defied that definition and now leads a truly free and fulfilling life (trust me). Judging from your sig name I'm assuming (perhaps improperly) that you are in recovery yourself -and if that is the case I truly wish you the best in your efforts. I don't mean to disparage recovery groups -if one needs to believe that they have a life-long illness to strive for a better life then I fully support that. Whether I disagree or not on the duration of addiction is, on that point, irrelevant. Whatever leads you to a happy and fulfilled existence free from the bondage of substances I'm all for it.

      September 14, 2012 at 00:02 | Report abuse |
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  35. hcd2

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    December 25, 2012 at 01:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. xenutis

    My parents were both substance abusers–for my Mom it was alcohol, for my Dad heroin. Nothing can justify, excuse, or ameliorate the abuse they inflicted upon me. Addicts abuse the hell out of everyone around them, and you can not excuse abuse. EVER. I feel more sorry for the trauma (which also effects the brain) inflicted on the innocent children that are vulnerable and dependent on addicts for their care, than I do for the addict who CHOSE to start using drugs. I canlt believe so may of you seem to sympathize more with these abusers than the innocent people they abuse! Once you do the drug, I agree addiction kicks in but the choice to start is just that, a choice. I no longer speak to either of my parents and I pray to God one day they are held responsible for their unspeakable acts.

    February 5, 2013 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Joe

    Ok, so your comment gets deleted if you mention how "non-profit organizations" are profiting off of the treatment culture surrounding the "disease" of addiction... So maybe this comment will still be here tomorrow, but who knows.

    Check out the South Park episode at this link: http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s09e14-bloody-mary to see a pretty good explanation about the ridiculousness of calling addiction a disease.

    April 22, 2013 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. simplyput

    Hazeldon recovery books ALONE have worked wonders in the lives of people I know. Melony Beattie's book *The Language of Letting Go* works for people who have loved ones in the grip of addiction, as well as the addict him/her self. She was a herion addict, and her recovery has been an inspiration to many, many people. Just like the rainbow I saw this morning, there is hope. You never go wrong with acknowledging the problem and acting *as if* you can change. Soon, you're actually changing, one day at a time.

    July 16, 2013 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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  40. Tera

    You forgot to tell us how we are supposed to intervene. My son has been struggling since 7th grade (at least) and been in rehabs and hospitals for years, but now almost 19 is the same as he has ever been...lying, blaming, manipulating, abusing everyone and most especially those who try to 'intervene'...Thousands of dollars and tears later and I understand what you are saying and believe it, but I still don't understand the 'how'.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.