Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

It’s commonly questioned “is addiction a disease?” and it’s also commonly asked “is addiction a choice?” As a former addict, I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling a kid with cancer, “I understand, I have a disease to… It’s called addiction…” At the same time we’re talking about definitions and not emotions. It may feel wrong trying to empathize with someone who has a different disease from the negative stigma placed on drug addiction. However, when asking “is addiction a disease?” or “is addiction a choice?” it’s pretty black and white. It should be based on what defines a disease or a choice.

Is Addiction a Disease?

According to Webster’s dictionary a disease is defined as a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

Given that drugs alter structure and function of a specific location (the brain) and isn’t a direct result of physical injury, addiction is a disease. Feel free to disagree if your interpretation of Webster’s definition is different than mine. I’d love to read your input in the comments. If your interpretation is the same then it’s hard to argue with a dictionary.

Is Addiction a Choice?

According to Webster’s dictionary a choice is defined as an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

Based on this definition addiction is a choice because it’s always a possibility to not use drugs. Even though it’s always a possibility, outside influences can contribute to someones decision to use. An example is in the movie Training Day a cop holds a gun to his partners head telling him to use drugs then fires him for refusing to influence his decision making. He ends up using drugs which was a choice, but should he be ashamed for making that choice?

I’m not saying every addict has a gun held to their head, but a lot of addicts start using at a young age. Before the age of 25 decision making is primarily processed through the amygdala (emotional center of the brain). This makes adolescents more prone to outside influences than adults. This is why statutory rape laws exist, even the government recognizes adolescents are vulnerable to outside influences. A lot of addicts and alcoholics started using or drinking at a young age. It’s extremely rare for a 26+ year old to decide to take a drug or drink for the first time in their life. As a result of using drugs at a young age, they damage and inhibit growth of the frontal cortex where logical decisions are made. This can cause them to continue using drugs past the age of 25.

Outside influences that trigger an adolescent to use drugs can include, but are not limited to:

  • Suffering from a undiagnosed mental condition they’re self-medicating
  • Being bullied and/or neglected by peers and seeking to fit in
  • Having family who uses drugs or drinks
  • Experiencing abuse and neglect at home
  • A traumatic event shaping their personality at a young age
  • Being poorly educated by the current drug education system
  • Being prescribed controlled substances

is addiction a choice

The list goes on. Sure kids have a choice in whether or not they use drugs, but should they be shamed for that choice? No more than if a 14 year old girl chooses to sleep with a 40 year old man. The difference with addiction, as stated earlier, is if they use addictive drugs at a young age they’re likely to continue using in adulthood as a result of the structure and function alteration of the brain. When you see a 30 year old addict, it’s likely a result of a decision they made when they were an adolescent. I personally believe they should never be shamed but encouraged that there’s a way out.

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  1. Zhao

    I think drug addiction is more of the product of mental illness than simply a choice. I honestly don’t know if I’d say it’s a disease either. I’ve always viewed drug abuse as a form of self-harm. If it needs to be classified as a disease in order for funding then it should be. As you said, drug addiction starts young for a lot of people, best to get them help then act like they’re simply idiots who threw away their lives for a high and what not.

  2. cocobean

    Ya that really puts it into perspective. So many people use that as a legitimate excuse / reason to continue using.. Thanks for posting. 😊

  3. ChannelingFreya

    I don’t think addiction itself is a choice. I think using that first time can be a choice, but it can also be a desperate act brought on by the need to ease some mental pain, whether it be from abuse, mental illness or whatever have you. As someone who is recovered/recovering/living with self harm tendencies, I can see that can be the case also sometimes. It’s a very complex and personal thing that I don’t think can be put into a clear cut, across the board explanation or definition.

  4. Fonn

    I think it is neither. The vast majority of users of recreational drugs quit when it’s no longer deemed to be a positive in their lives. For them it was a choice. For a small percentage of users ( the rest of us).It is most definitely a brain disorder that get worse over time much like any other, schizophrenia etc. And should be treated as such, like any other mental ilness..Out of the hands of the judging and shaming and punishing court system and into the hands of the medical community like any other illness…

    1. CG Kid Post author

      Sure quitting cannabis can be good for some. For quitting nicotine whatever way works some are helped with gum some cold turkey whatever is easiest.

      1. Alekz13

        Thanks a lot, man. Appreciate all you do. Sometime I wanna open up my own “Nicotine Anonymous” in Romania.
        And regarding your addiction to meth, I had the same experience with RC Mephedrone – watching porn felt fucking godlike and I felt like I was the coolest motherfucker around while I was on it. Nothing felt the same when I was sober

  5. Alekz13

    I am from Europe and here’s a thing to mix cannabis with tabacco in a joint. Shall I completely remove tabacoo? Nicotine gums are helpful or make quitting worse?

  6. skysoldier81

    I would say both it starts with the choice when i was young anybody who new me would say i would nerver even experement with anything up to 25 all i was addicted to was caffeine but at 25 i seen my best friend have his head blown off lest then five feet away i was destroyed later that night a group of friends were passing. A bottle. They didn’t. Even ask if i wanted any i just took it and started downing it but no matter how bad things get there’s stiil. Choice life is hard and there are things that happen that will make 99 out 100 people fail but the choice. Is still there despite. Being almost impossible. And from that point i went fro

  7. skysoldier81

    From having a few to waking up in alleys blacking out and getting. On a train and almost left a country getting. In fights constantly and at my worst id start with a bottle of whiskey and then went out till dawn but that quickly went to blacking out from a 12pack. But there CAME A TIME were i realized i was going to kill me so i switched. To weed and became a huge stoner i didnt. Have to replace the booze with weed but i did my reasoning was i needed something to mask the depression and anger o had. Then my wife about. 2Years ago started meth and i fought her a long time about it threting her with the cops i really didn’t. Care if they busted me to to trying to force rehab i wad constantly pleading with her until i found and cheated on me and the fear of loosing her made a common sense choice obsolete. and tried it with her one of the worst choises of my life but still a choice and i never really wanted. To start i just didnt want to loose her and out of all the drugs ive ever took this qas the only one even booze that i had no contol of i knew it and really didn’t care. Now recently. My wife said she was done with it she lasted little over a week she slept was very. Angry then violent at that time she left when she came back she said she got some and showed it to me and i was fine with not having it until i seen it and i knew i should take it chuck it in the toilet but i didn’t. I caved its sad as soon as i seen the bag i got arroused and thats when its a disease when your brain is chemically altered so far as to have a physical response at the site of it all i know i cant be around it at all and all it took was a few months of using this drug is straight evil.