The commonly accepted definition for drug addiction and alcoholism is that they are diseases – mental disorders that are treatable but not curable. For many people, this seems like it might be true, yet even the lead researchers who shout from the rooftops that it is a disease still say that the pathology is not clearly defined, and that there are as many social influences as genetic ones.
Rather than saying that addiction definitely is a disease or that it definitely is not a disease, how about a middle ground that confirms it is a dis-ease. Breaking it down that way it clearly states that the person is not at peace – that there is something wrong that is driving him or her to use drugs and/or alcohol compulsively despite the known consequences.
For example, who in their right mind would leave their children, spouse or job to go get high? Who would give away their car to a dealer for just one more night’s worth of drugs? Who would jab needles in their arms repeatedly, let alone ones that are shared with other drug users and probably contaminated? Nobody who is in their right mind, that’s who. They are trying to escape something, whether it is within themselves or outside, to try and feel better or to just be numb and feel nothing at all.
These people are dis-eased. They need help. They need love and protection more than they need punishment or sanctions. They need treatment. When their minds are finally at ease, the desire to use drugs or alcohol to escape will no longer be strong enough to overtake them.
Having compassion for people with substance abuse disorders can be tough, because in their state they do all kinds of harmful things to themselves and others, but the only way they will get better is if someone steps in and guides them to the right form of help.
Simply locking them up or punishing them some other way doesn’t solve the problem, and neither does taking away any responsibility by blaming their behavior on a disease and saying it’s not their fault because they can’t control it. Somewhere in the middle is the spot that will help the most people to recover.