What Addiction is Really About

In the world of addiction treatment, substance abuse is currently most often understood and defined using a psychomedical model. People must possess a set of characteristics to be diagnosed as an addict, which includes excessive alcohol or substance consumption, increased tolerance of the substance, withdrawal symptoms if he/she does intake the substance, and sometimes serious health issues related to the drug use. However, it’s important to keep in mind that addiction is different than substance abuse. The latter is simply the misuse of a drug and can occur intermittently throughout one’s life. For the former, the individual must display a consistent pattern of abuse over a longer period of time. Additionally, there are many different ways that experts understand and describe addiction. The three most common theories out there are that it’s a moral failing, that it’s a disease, or that it’s a behavioral disorder. Taite and Schartt, in “Ending Addiction for Good” (2013) argue that addiction should be considered a behavioral disorder and that treatment should focus not on whether addiction is present because of a “disease” or because of "genetic predisposition." The pain of addict’s lives, not genetics, is what can be seen as the root of addictive behavior. Likewise, there are usually triggers that have tipped the addict over the edge and that trigger is almost always trauma or profound neglect. The benefit to emphasizing the behavioral model of addiction allows providers and patients to consider a broader range of treatment options. The addict can absolutely change behaviors and return to normal living. Another point that Taite and Schartt make is that the behavioral model of addiction encourages addicts to reflect on the events that happened in his/her life that may have contributed to the addiction. They argue that this in-depth work is necessary for lasting, long-term change. They also make the point that the emphasis on biological components to addiction can actually be a defense against exploring the trauma and deeper pain in one’s life that likely is more of the root cause. The use of drugs, to the point of addiction, is usually the individual’s way of coping with pain. The drug allows the addict to withdraw from reality and avoid his/her core issues. The drug’s effects cover the pain of trauma. When the drug wears off, it must be taken again. This cycle continues to the point of habituated activity in the addict’s life. Take away the drug and the pain of the original trauma comes rising to the surface. This self-defeating, self-sabotaging behavior is what addiction is really about.