There is an ongoing debate about how to classify addiction. Some people say that calling addiction a disease helps addicts acquire treatment. They also say that referring to addiction in medical terms lessens the stigma that society places on addicts.
Neuroscientist and former addict Marc Lewis disagrees. He argues that calling something an illness doesn’t necessarily eliminate the stigma surrounding that condition. He cites the stigma that still sometimes surrounds mental health and AIDS patients as evidence.
Lewis and others argue with the notion that addiction is a lifelong condition. But it is. If people have cancer and go into remission, there isn’t evidence of cancer in their bodies. But they still have to visit their doctors periodically and take other steps to ensure their continued good health.
Similarly, once they have treated their substance use disorder, former addicts still have to take measures to stay sober. They might go to therapy or participate in programs that promote sobriety. They might start exercise regimens, begin practices such as yoga or meditation, or embark on particular diets.
In other words, former addicts have to make changes in their health, wellness, and mental health routines in order to become and stay sober. Again, this is similar to how people with other physical conditions must maintain their health. For example, people with prediabetes have to exercise, eat well, watch their weight, and make other changes if they do not want to develop type 2 diabetes.
Addiction is a complex condition that affects physical and mental health. There is still so much we don’t know about addiction, so why should we stigmatize the people who suffer from it? Treating addiction as a disease recognizes the complexity of the condition and acknoweldges that there are ways to treat it.