One of the things that addicts on the road to recovery come up against often is the idea that their addiction is a choice and not an illness. It is this stigma that can cause addicts to avoid admitting that they have a problem, making it less likely that they will ever recover. However, it is also dangerous to see addiction as a disease which cannot be helped.

In 1970, thanks to an influx of high-grade heroin to Vietnam, a large number of men enlisted in the army there became addicted to the drug. In fact, military doctors working with the men predicted that up to 25% of all of the soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to narcotics by early 1971.

By June of that year, the problem had gotten so bad that it was feared that veterans returning home would spark a huge surge in drug use in the US. Trying to avoid this, President Nixon demanded mandatory drug testing on soldiers before they returned home, and that any soldier who failed the test not be allowed to board a plane back to America until they had undergone detoxification and re-tested clean.

Once word spread of the new directive, most of the GIs stopped using narcotics immediately, and the small number who did not were clean by the first time they were retested. Even more amazingly, only 12% of soldiers who were addicted to drugs in Vietnam became addicted again once they had returned home. The desire to return home to their lives and families had stopped the addiction that these soldiers were suffering from in its tracks.

Herein lies the idea that there is an element of choice to addiction. It is scientifically claimed that addiction is a disease of the brain, which can happen to anyone and can be severe and difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. However, the fact is, it is possible to overcome addiction through making choices.

Is Addiction a Disease?

As mentioned earlier, addiction is understood by scientists to be a disease of the brain. However, there is a second school of thought which argues against this. Neuroscientists will argue that as addiction is tied to changes in the function of the brain, and even the basic structure of the organ itself, this is basis to classify it as a disease.

It is true that through repeated use of substances, certain areas of the brain are worn down or rewired, in some cases changing forever the circuits of the brain that determine how we experience pleasure.

However, what most people fail to understand is that although a change in the brain might cause a certain kind of behaviour, it does not mean that the sufferer is a slave to these behaviours. Where science and psychiatry can still find themselves at odds is in the question of whether brain changes can affect a person’s ability to control their actions, or to be susceptible to positive factors that influence self-control.

Arguments For And Against

Whilst there are arguments on both sides, the argument for addiction being understood as a brain disease seems to hinge on the idea that no rational human being would choose to remain in an addicted state when it is causing so many problems in their lives. But then alcohol and drugs tend to remove rational awareness by their very nature, meaning that this argument isn’t very strong, and is easy to dismiss.

On the other side of the coin, when comparing addiction with other brain diseases, it appears obvious that an addiction has a voluntary element that other diseases do not. No physician in the world would be able to talk someone out of having dementia or punish someone into recovering from Parkinson’s. It is scientifically impossible to halt the progression of a self-determining biological disorder simply by threatening the patient. With addiction the choice to go into recovery and the impetus to, ultimately, see the recovery process through, is down to a fear of what will be lost if the patient does not.

Addiction As a Choice

There is a positive reason that scientists looked to classify addiction as a brain disease in the first place and this lies with the stigma that many addicts still feel today. If society is allowed to see addiction as a free choice then there is no reason to want to help the addict.

Addiction as a brain disease has helped plenty of addicts to get the treatment that they so badly need, with more funding allocated to research and treatment, and financial support for those trying to get clean.

Addiction is a choice, but not in the sweeping way that many choose to see it. Choices are made incrementally towards addiction, so that where the person suffering from full-blown alcoholism may physically and psychologically not be able to stop drinking, someone heading towards that stage will be.

There are choices all the way through addiction, starting from buying a bottle of wine on the way home from work every night to drink with your partner, through to choosing friends and events just so that you can drink, through to losing your job down to being permanently drunk or hungover, and in every small decision made up until a full-blown addiction takes over.

It is possible to recognise the signs that something that used to be fun or relaxing has started to turn into something darker from the earliest points, and most addicts will know that they are in trouble long before they are too far gone to get help.

If you are worried that you are on the path to addiction, wherever you are in the process, you have a choice to make. Choose freedom with Ocean Recovery Centre, where you can take part in a dedicated detox and rehabilitation programme designed to help you to reprogramme your brain and understand where your addiction is coming from. You’ll be able to take part in therapies and activities that allow you to make that choice on your own once you are outside of rehab, and you’ll be able to take advantage of a dedicated aftercare programme for the difficult days after you leave.

To find out more, call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, and the team at Ocean Recovery Centre is here to help.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 14, 2021

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.