Why Do We Judge Psychological Illness More Than Physical?

What do you think of when you hear that someone is abusing alcohol?

Do you feel empathy or do you feel it is “their” problem. If you think about it, we all could have been born to the bed next to us…..and it could be any one of us tomorrow. We don’t judge those with the disease of diabetes like we do those with the disease of addiction. We can change that. This is not a THEM problem…. it is a WE problem.  As more and more research is done on alcohol and drug abuse, the results suggest that it is not a “problem” instead it is a disease or disorder. Research is suggesting that we need to help the addict just as we would someone who is ill.

In 2012, roughly 17 million adults in the United States aged 19 and older had an “Alcohol Use Disorder” or AUD.

17 million adults is just over 7.2 percent of the adult population of the country. Problem drinking and abuse has become so severe that the medical world has given the medical diagnosis of “Alcohol Use Disorder”. Included in the diagnosis is 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women, with an estimated 855,000 adolescents aged 12-17 diagnosed as well.

There are certain criteria that is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that have to be met to be diagnosed with an AUD. The medical community has found that anyone who meets 2 of the 11 criteria during the same 12 month period receives a diagnosis of AUD. Mild, moderate or severe diagnosis is based on the number of criteria met.

There is also a disease model for alcoholism that depends on it being a physical addiction that cannot be controlled, distinguishable by specific symptoms and requiring specialized medical treatment.

Cycles of physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms, including shaking, sweating, nausea and dizziness, are part of the reason alcoholism has been classified as a physical disease. Because abuse of drugs or alcohol is an addiction, it is considered a disease of the brain. This disease model from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence seems to not take into account some of the reasons people become addicted and others do not. Cultural and environmental factors need to be considered, as do traumatic events.

Dr. Nandi's Health Quiz

Why do many in the medical world believe that addiction is a disease or disorder?

Research is showing that addiction is 50 percent genetic predisposition and 50 percent poor coping skills. There have been studies that have researched identical twins and fraternal twin pairs that has confirmed these numbers . There are more studies being done to confirm these results. Researchers have also discovered that the children of people who abuse alcohol and drugs are 8 times more likely to develop and addiction themselves..

Why is alcohol or drug abuse a “we” problem?

It is because we all have the genetic predisposition for addiction because there is an evolutionary advantage to that. When an animal eats a certain food that it likes, there is an advantage to associating pleasure with that food so that the animal will look for that food in the future. You could say that the potential for addiction may be hardwired into our brains. Even though everyone has the potential for addiction, why are some more predisposed to addiction than others? Some may abuse alcohol or drugs because of poor coping skills by rewiring their brains and its thinking. Every time someone abuses alcohol, they strengthen the wiring associated with drinking, and begin to chase that buzz even more. The more they chase the effect of alcohol, the greater the chance of eventually developing an addiction.

Like cancer, heart disease diabetes and other diseases, addiction should be considered a disease.

Take a look at heart disease. It is a combination of genes and also many times due to poor choices in lifestyle such as a bad diet, lack of exercise and smoking. You can compare other diseases such as adult onset diabetes and various forms of cancers which are due to a combination of genes and life style choices. If you hear that someone has cancer, heart disease or diabetes, you would not judge them and think they were a bad person. You would think “How can they beat this disease or how can I help them?” This is the approach we need to follow with addiction. Everyone can become an addict. It crosses all colors, religions, sexes, economic boundaries which helps to confirm that addiction really is a disease.

As more and more research is done on abuse of alcohol or drugs, it suggests that we should change our opinion to that of abuse is a disease that should be treated with care and empathy. It could be a loved one that becomes dependent and we would want nothing but the best for them.

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