Addiction’s A Disease: Attitudes Must Change

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Addicts are facing a disease, not a choice: Photo by Or17

According to a new editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, written by Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, mental health professionals must change their attitudes when dealing with patients suffering from substance addiction.

In Stanbrook’s view, health care professionals and society view addiction as a choice, rather than a disease. This view is harmful to patients, who may have severe physiological problems hampering their abilities to overcome addiction. The negative views and attitudes towards addiction are more likely to lead an addict to return to his preferred substance for support.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Dr. Stanbrook states in the editorial that, whether it’s crack cocaine, heroin, methadone, cigarettes, alcohol or other substances, the process is the same. Each chemical makes changes in the brain that must be dealt with, so stating that it is the addict’s fault that he keeps reaching for the substance is counterproductive. For an addict to break the bonds of addiction, he needs support, counseling, and time. In some cases, substitutes are needed to provide modified brain chemicals, as receptors and chemicals have been blocked or altered.

Changing Attitudes Towards Addiction and Addicts

Cocaine addiction's effects on the brain are significant. Image by Brookhaven National Library

Addiction affects the brain. Nerve receptors, particularly pleasure sensors, can be modified by the chemicals in the substance. The receptors may stop recognizing regular pleasure chemicals, instead only choosing the substance chemicals. Some chemicals produce large amounts of pleasure through production of pleasure chemicals, which drives people to return for the euphoric feeling that they associate with the substance.

The way to improve treatment of addicts, according to Stanbrook, is to start by changing how people view addiction. Instead of a personal choice, society must understand that it is a chemical dependency that changes the brain. Society must resist placing blame on the addict, instead offering needed support and services to overcome chemical dependency.

Next Page: Interview with Dr. Stanbrook

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