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Substance Abuse | Clearbrook Treatment CentersWe’ve all had to deal with those people.  You know who I am talking about.  The people that tell you substance abuse is a choice.  Most of them have never personally had to battle addiction, but tend to think they have the answers.  They contend that the addict or alcoholic has power over the uncontrollable urges that happen within the brain.  Let’s discuss some arguments you can use when it comes time to defend yourself against people who say substance abuse isn’t a disease.

Recognized By Healthcare Professionals As A Disease

It doesn’t make much sense to argue against substance abuse as a disease.  It’s been confirmed over and over through medical professionals.  In 1784, Dr. Benjamin Rush was the first to diagnose addiction as a disease.  Since the 30s, with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, the thought has become more accepted.  Today, most of the healthcare professionals and insurance companies recognize that addiction is, in fact, a disease.  Even psychologists and psychiatrists are now treating substance abuse patients by referring to their issues as a disease.

Changes in the Brain

The changes that occur within the brain of an addict have been proven and measured.  In a normal brain, pleasure is released from the brain whenever needs and wants are supplied.  By adding addictive substances to the body, you adjust the makeup of the brain.  Many addictive products cause the brain to release high levels of pleasure filled chemicals.

Over a period of time, the continued experience of these chemicals can alter the way the brain operates.  No longer will a person receive the pleasurable feeling by using drugs, but will instead need the drugs to feel normal.  When they are not using, the person can experience intense cravings or desire for the substance.  They will continue to use, despite the consequences they know are coming.  Over time, the user stops caring about life and everyday activities which used to produce pleasure.

Once these changes in the brain have occurred, the choice is no longer an option.  They will become powerless to the effects of drugs and alcohol.  Reasoning and begging with the addict will not change the feelings occurring inside of the addict.


Just like cancer or diabetes, substance abuse can run in the family.  Studies have indicated that about 10 percent of the population is predisposed genetically to the disease of addiction.  While they cannot yet tell which genes lead to the addiction, they’ve determined it to be true.  It is a lot like cancers and diabetes.  Many people are predisposed by the family makeup to have trouble later in life, even though we can’t determine the exact reason why.  Children of addicts are up to 8 times more likely to become addicted themselves.

Substance Abuse Is A Chronic Disorder

When you compare substance abuse to another chronic disease, you’ll recognize a lot of similarities.

  • Long-lasting condition
  • Can be controlled but not cured
  • Progressive
  • Involves relapses
  • Requires intensive treatment
  • Aftercare is essential
  • Therapy for the family is crucial for consistent recovery

These are all points that could be used to discuss most chronic diseases interchangeably.  You’ll notice they all also apply to substance abuse.

Making Excuses

Many people believe that by looking at addiction as a disease, we are allowing the addict not to take responsibility.  When dealing with a cancer patient, we don’t blame the person for having cancer.  We can, however, expect them to work on getting the treatment that they need. If they take the right steps, they have a better chance of going into remission.  This is the same concept for substance abuse.  It is okay to expect that a person should take responsibility for their recovery plan, but no one asks to become addicted. Nevertheless, if they do what they need to in order to recovery, the chances are in their favor.

Some people will attempt to use the disease aspect of addiction as an excuse.  They enjoy being in a role of the victim.  They try to convince others that if they have a disease, they can’t be responsible for what is happening.  This simply isn’t true. While it isn’t fair to blame the addict for their disease, it is acceptable that they take responsibility for where they are.  By acknowledging where the disease has taken them, they can make choices to get the help that is needed.

Why Do Some Think It’s Not a Disease

In all arguments, it is important to discuss both sides of the spectrum.  Many people who don’t believe in the disease aspect will contend that the person made a choice.

To some level, this can be considered true.

The addict did make the choice to use initially, but once the brain has been altered, they’ve lost control. Even diseases such as heart disease and diabetes can involve some sort of choice.  A person chooses whether they eat fatty foods or exercise.  They choose how much sugar they consume in their lives.  The disease is what happens to the body as a result of those initial choices.

Another argument can be that an addict can get better without treatment, thereby negating that it is a disease.  While some people may be able to remain abstinent without treatment, their quality of life is lessened without a program of recovery. Yes, they may no longer be abusing drugs and alcohol, but their emotional and mental wellbeing continues to suffer.  They will need intensive treatment followed by a lifelong regimen of management.  Attending regular 12-step meetings and continuing professional treatment is essential for long-term recovery.

In the End

It doesn’t really matter which side of the fence a person is on.  We can all agree that for people that are struggling with substance abuse disorders, help is needed.  Avoid treating your loved ones as if they are making choices to live this life.  They are hurting and in despair.  When you approach them, view them as a person with a disease and try to help them through recovery.  What we do for our loved one today can help them from spending more of their lives in despair.

Contact Clearbrook For Substance Abuse Treatment

If you or someone you love is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, please do not wait any longer. For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality drug and alcohol addiction treatment to the chemically dependent person, while offering support and education to the affected family members. If you are ready to find recovery in a peaceful and compassionate environment, please contact our Admissions Specialists today. They are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you may have.




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