“Every worthy act is difficult. Ascent is always difficult. Descent is easy and often slippery.

-Mahatma Ghandi

If you believe that you or someone you know may have a substance abuse problem, then you may be wondering what addiction really is. After all, overcoming substance abuse and addiction will depend in part on understanding what it is and where it comes from. One of the most common descriptions of substance abuse and addiction is that it is a disease. Is this true? What do experts and scientists say about it? What does this mean for you? In this article we will dissect all of these questions and more to help you get started along the road to recovery.


Is Addiction A Disease? According to nearly every group of doctors and researchers, yes, addiction is a disease. It is officially classified as a mental illness by psychologists. The classification of addiction as a disease started out within the scientific community as a way to explain how addiction works and its origins. More recently, this idea has spread to substance abuse programs, treatment facilities, and other sources of support, and helped them construct the best way to help those who are suffering from substance abuse and addiction.


The importance of viewing substance abuse and addiction as a disease requires a little historical background. Traditionally, substance abuse and addiction, especially alcohol abuse, was viewed as a moral failing. It was the result of poor willpower, weakness, or some other shortcoming. Under this approach, substance abuse was a series of deliberate, conscious efforts and bad choices. This meant that methods of addressing substance abuse were limited to punishing those with problems and berating them for their moral mistakes. Often there was a religious dimension as well – people with substance abuse problems were guilty of repeated sins and their problems were their own fault. These approaches were not very effective. Their ongoing failure eventually led to the development of the disease model of addiction.


Understanding that substance abuse and addiction is a disease means viewing it not as a set of actions or choices that people actively make, but, like any other disease, as something that happens to people for reasons not within their control. This, in turn, introduced the idea of treatment and recovery. Rather than punishing people for their choices, treating substance abuse and addiction eventually became about understanding its origins and developing methods to help using scientific and psychological research.


So is addiction a disease? The answer is yes. This answer has led to new approaches in fighting substance abuse and addiction.