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Addiction Is a Choice

Addiction Is a Choice


(Please see Counterpoint article by by John H. Halpern, M.D.)

Is addiction a disease, or is it a choice? To think clearly about this question, we need to make a sharp distinction between an activity and its results. Many activities that are not themselves diseases can cause diseases. And a foolish, self-destructive activity is not necessarily a disease.

With those two vital points in mind, we observe a person ingesting some substance: alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or heroin. We have to decide, not whether this pattern of consumption causes disease nor whether it is foolish and self-destructive, but rather whether it is something altogether distinct and separate: Is this pattern of drug consumption itself a disease?

Scientifically, the contention that addiction is a disease is empirically unsupported. Addiction is a behavior and thus clearly intended by the individual person. What is obvious to common sense has been corroborated by pertinent research for years (Table 1).

The person we call an addict always monitors their rate of consumption in relation to relevant circumstances. For example, even in the most desperate, chronic cases, alcoholics never drink all the alcohol they can. They plan ahead, carefully nursing themselves back from the last drinking binge while deliberately preparing for the next one. This is not to say that their conduct is wise, simply that they are in control of what they are doing. Not only is there no evidence that they cannot moderate their drinking, there is clear evidence that they do so, rationally responding to incentives devised by hospital researchers. Again, the evidence supporting this assertion has been known in the scientific community for years (Table 2).

My book Addiction Is a Choice was criticized in a recent review in a British scholarly journal of addiction studies because it states the obvious (Davidson, 2001). According to the reviewer, everyone in the addiction field now knows that addiction is a choice and not a disease, and I am, therefore, "violently pushing against a door which was opened decades ago." I'm delighted to hear that addiction specialists in Britain are so enlightened and that there is no need for me to argue my case over there.

In the United States, we have not made so much progress. Why do some persist, in the face of all reason and all evidence, in pushing the disease model as the best explanation for addiction?


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