Addiction: A Disease Delegitimized by Stigma
January 20, 2017
Professional medical associations, such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine and American Medical Association, define addiction as a disease just like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. Articulating a usable definition of what “disease” actually is can be surprisingly difficult, as notions of health vary by context. Dorland’s Medical Dictionary generally defines disease as any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted.
Dr. Thomas Britton, CEO of Gateway Foundation, wrote in his article “Releasing Stigma’s Grip” that the many facets of drugs and alcohol addiction make it a unique disease. In comparison to cancer or diabetes, addiction strongly affects spiritual and mental wellness—not just physical wellness. Dr. Britton explains that this cumulative approach generates internal battles in those inflicted and seeking help. He writes, “Many people are simply overcome with feelings of inadequacy, shame and embarrassment.”
Perhaps this is due to society’s disillusioned notions of addiction. Stereotypes of dependency disrupt society at large from truly understanding the legitimacy of the disease. Drug and alcohol abuse are commonly associated with crime, broken homes, laziness, violence, and moral failing. Dr. Britton explains that fear of judgment may prevent those suffering from seeking the treatment they need.
According to the Center of Addiction, up to 25 percent of people with substance abuse problems appear to have a chronic disorder, meaning that their disease is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured. For chronic sufferers, addiction is a progressive, relapsing disease that requires intensive treatments and continuing aftercare, monitoring, and support to manage recovery.
You may find Dr. Thomas Britton’s full article, “Releasing Stigma’s Grip,” here. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse disorder, do not let shame or judgment impede pursuit of treatment. To get your or your loved one’s life back on track, learn more about treatment options at RecoverGateway.org.