The Disease of Addiction

If you open up The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and read the first 164 pages a central theme stands out which is repeated over and over – that addiction is a bodily and mental “obsession” and that participating in a spiritual approach to recovery aids the alcoholic or addict in long term sobriety.  Words written back in 1939, many decades before most of us were even thought of, but wisdom nonetheless.

What we now know in the 21st Century is that addiction is a disease of the brain and that treatment includes a spiritual approach that aids in the recovery toward long term sobriety.  The National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) one of the premiere institutes at the National Institutes of Health (Health and Human Services) has taken the lead on this research, led by Dr. Nora Volkow.  The scientific breakthroughs that have taken place as a result of her leadership and the tireless work of the NIDA team is nothing short of revolutionary.  NIDA has also made research possible by the many grants and funding of projects, broadening the base to include scholars and leaders of this domain worldwide.

Many still debate the veracity of whether addiction really is a “disease” and whether it really is a disease of the “brain.” That debate will continue as long as there are opinions, and as long as there are nay-sayers.  For the purposes here, the basis of this blog is grounded in the neurobiology of addiction, and supports the spiritual approach to recovery, with a foundation of education, and affecting change in ourselves and our human experience.

Addiction is not a moral issue:

There is still a pervasive stigma about addiction and individuals who have succumbed to its grip that if they “just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” or “stopped being so selfish” or “scale back a bit” or a multitude of other comments that we have all heard, then the alcoholic or addict would no longer be in the grips of the substance they are using.

If that were true, then there would not be a pandemic of heroin addiction in the US, nor would we have an epidemic of college age binge drinking, older adult addiction, and nor would the numbers seeking treatment for alcoholism continue to rise.  Everyone would just give themselves a good talking to and be done with it.

But it doesn’t work that way – and for anyone who has gone through it, they can tell you that with absolute certainty – and for anyone who has worked with this population, they can confirm what we all know:  Addiction is not about morals.  Once the disease of addiction has set in, the morals of an individual may be affected – stealing, lying, cheating  or manipulating to get the drug or the drink – but it doesn’t start with a moral failing.

It ends with one.



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