Is drug addiction a disease?

While it may be helpful to look at whether drug addiction is a disease or a choice, it's also worth considering what's below the surface. Photo: © Thinkstock Images

MASSACHUSETTS, April 29, 2013 — When the addiction question comes up, as it did in a recent L.A. Times  story, you see a familiar pattern. Battle lines are drawn and the contest begins, at least on the surface. It is hardly a new question and by all accounts it is not an inconsequential one either.

As the Times piece brings out, at issue is whether drug addiction is a disease (involuntary) or a choice (voluntary), and the kind of help that is appropriate depending on your answer.

The two viewpoints seem fundamentally to be at odds with each other. While the debate runs its course, there is something else below the surface of hot-button points and counterpoints, something deeper worth considering.

Many who consider the question feel a deeper rumbling as to which of the two viewpoints they would like to see emerge as correct. Is there merit in that deep down feeling? At an intuitive level, might there be a hint as to some common ground we can all build on?

This deep lying feeling squares with a comment from Dartmouth professor Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, who was asked by The Wall Street Journal how he defines health. Dr. Gilbert responded, “Health is much more than not being able to find something wrong. It’s how people feel, it’s a state of mind.”

Whether you believe that has a ring of authenticity to it or not, there is research to back up his statement. Some will agree that mental causation is primary when it comes to our feelings and our health, while others, understandably, will disagree.

As it turns out, however, most of us see eye to eye on a basic related point. The mental qualities help rather than hinder someone trying to beat drug addiction, no matter what kind of treatment they are receiving.

We all know that courage is a mental force that resists defeat. Persistence offsets submissiveness and conviction counteracts indifference. Of course, a positive expectancy is always a stronger support to health than is its opposite. 

The value of mental and spiritual qualities in the health care arena gained notoriety recently at Columbia University, where their clinical psychology master’s program was expanded to include spirituality. The professor who leads the concentration, Dr. Lisa Miller, says, “We can grow healthy and move past suffering if we don’t simply look at ourselves as isolated but look at ourselves as part of the greater consciousness of love.”

It is hard to argue against the positive effect of love in caring for others, especially for the person who feels isolated and lost because of a drug addiction. The significant role that compassion and other mental and spiritual qualities can play in the treatment of a host of ailments is significant, and it is being taken seriously. In some quarters, people are rethinking the foundational elements of health.

For now, we appear still to be stuck in a tug of war between competing viewpoints regarding addiction. At its root, addiction is either a condition of mind or of matter.

Mind physicians may differ from matter physicians in their analysis and treatment of the problem, yet there is something we can unite on in order to help the person who is trying to beat an addiction. Think for a moment what you can do right now to help make this person’s life better.

What words, thoughts or actions right now can help drive out a sense of despair or defeat? What can we say or think or do right now to promote resolve and eradicate resignation? What will help this person marshal the mental energy that feels to them like a recuperative power?

Sure, this is about an attitude, a state of mind. It is also just a starting point, but that is no reason to underestimate its potential for providing strength and support. Maybe we will be surprised at how responsive people are to an uplifting state of mind and the long-term difference it can make for good in a life they may have all but given up on.


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Russ Gerber

Russ Gerber is a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science and he manages media and government relations for the Christian Science Church headquartered in Boston. 

Russ enjoys opportunities to talk with journalists, editors, legislators, writers, producers and the public at large about the age-old capacity of spirituality to improve and restore health, explaining why and how that is happening today.

His media experience began with and grew out of a 30-year career in radio, ranging from on-air work, to programming, to managing and consulting. 

When The Christian Science Monitor expanded into radio news programming, Russ was retained as a consultant then later hired full-time to help them adapt their print content to the broadcast medium. He eventually wrote for and edited the Church's weekly religious magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel, and launched a weekly radio program for the publication, heard on over 200 radios stations worldwide and on the web. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, he is also a contributor to Psychology Today and Huffington Post.

Today Russ and his wife, Jo Ann, call Boston their home, while enjoying opportunities to travel throughout the world.

Contact Russ Gerber

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