Anyone suffering or have experienced a loved one struggling with substance abuse will probably be aware of the old argument of whether drug addiction is a mental illness, or a choice. Opinion often seems to be divided up the middle, with some convinced that drug abusers should be punished for their addiction (criminal record, jail sentence etc.), while others are determined that drug abusers should be given help to try and overcome their addictions in an understanding and sympathetic environment (rehab facilities, AA etc.).
Today, we’re going to look into both sides of the argument and try to provide a balanced perspective about drug addiction.
Drug Abuse is a Choice
On many levels, drug and substance abuse are seen as a “problem of choice”; to be specific, a lifestyle choice. People who habitually use drugs as a means of recreation or escape are making the choice to do so, and it is theoretically wrong to say that anyone struggling with this problem is suffering from an incurable disease that can not be treated with therapy or medication. Many think a spiritual higher power – such as mentioned in the twelve step program – is the answer, while others swear on rehabs as being the only effective cure.
However, an effective recovery also has to be a choice, which is why so many treatment methods for substance abuse fail in their early stages. Many repeat drug abusers risk their jobs, friends, families and lives in order to keep abusing.
Drug Addiction is a Mental Illness
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has stated there is a “definite connection between mental illness and the use of addictive substances.”
Drug addiction has a profound effect on the way our brains work, changing them in fundamental ways and upsetting our usual hierarchy and priorities when it comes to our needs and desires. New priorities become prominent and start to take over, many to do with procuring and taking your drug of choice. This results in compulsive behaviour that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control our impulses in spite of the outcome, giving drug addiction many of the markings of mental illness.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is thought of be the definitive guide on all mental disorders, and includes drug use disorders as part of their resources. The DSM splits drug use into two variations; drug dependence and drug abuse. Drug dependence is where addiction lies, whereas drug abuse is mainly based on the harmful consequences you risk with repeated, yet non-compulsive, use. Signs of addiction include compulsive use, tolerance (getting to the point where much higher doses are needed to get the desired effect), and withdrawal (unpleasant symptoms such as shivers and shakes when the drug is taken away and use is prevented).
The main determining point between choice and addiction seems to be a blurred one, as someone could easily start off with drug abuse as a clear choice, only to spiral into addiction later.