Addiction’s A Disease: Attitudes Must Change


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Addiction is a Disease, Not a Choice: Continued

Substance abuse changes chemicals in the brain: Photo by fifo

The fact that addiction is a disease should not be lost to health care professionals, or society as a whole. Treating addiction as a choice only reinforces addictive behaviors. Instead, health care professionals, friends, family members, and anyone else trying to help an addict, must attempt to solve the disease of addiction by using appropriate methods. Without these fundamental changes in perception, the same problems of relapse and substance abuse are more likely to persist in the patients.

Decoded Science asked Dr. Stanbrook why he chose to discuss this topic:

Two things motivated this editorial.  Our journal recently published a research paper by Schultz and colleagues (CMAJ December 13, 2011 183:E1334-E1344;  doi:10.1503/cmaj.110235) that highlighted negative attitudes held by hospital staff towards the smoking behaviours of hospital inpatients.  Also, the polarization of the general public’s attitudes towards addicts and addiction was highlighted by the widely publicized and controversial recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold the continued operation of the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver.

In addition to the study by Schultz and colleagues, several studies have documented the prevalence of stigmatization of drug users by society in general and by health professionals in particular.  A 2010 study by the UK Drug Policy Commission is a good example of the former. The 2009 study by Ronzani and colleagues (Social Science & Medicine 2009;69:1080-4) is a good example of the latter.

The lasting message of this editorial is that attitudes influence both treatment and the receptiveness of the patient. For lasting addiction rehabilitation to take place, the minds of both the patient and the public must be receptive to change.


Stanbrook, M. (2011.) Addiction is a disease, and negative attitudes must change. CMJA. Accessed December 13, 2011.

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