Craving and disease theory

Craving and disease theory

As some of you know I am interested in mindfulness as a tool to help me keep my life in balance. After developing this interest and discovering that it helped, I became curious as to why it worked. I then started to read about neuroplasticity, which described how the brain changes with time as a result of learnt behaviour. At one time, people thought that you could not change the structure much after your teenage years, but this has been proven to be wrong. Mindfulness can really help change things in all sorts of ways, from helping stroke victims, pain management and for helping diminish cravings in addiction over time.

Skeleton on chair

Skeleton on chair

Many in the faith-based 12 step world would like us to believe that addiction is a disease, but I do not feel this is true. The brain will change as a result of feeling the “reward” of substance abuse, but this is not a disease. You are also not powerless to change, unless your brain has ceased to function! I feel the disease theory is one of the many things that has held back advances in recovery treatment. It is about time that it is challenged and thrown out so that solutions are used, that are suitable for the modern age. Many like to feel they have a disease, as it excuses their addiction in their eyes, but I feel taking complete responsibility for recovery and life is the answer.

Anyway, I keep an eye out for articles about this and came across  this one about a conference

Yesterday I read this blog post which I feel is really good

I feel it sums up how addicts are their own worst enemy, and explains why they react the way they do. (It does not say they have a spiritual illness!) and talks about how the brain is designed to change and why this is not a disease.

Here is a small section

“Proponents of the disease model argue that addiction changes the brain. And they’re right: it does. But the brain changes anyway, at every level, from gene expression, to cell density, to the size and shape of the cortex itself. Of course, neuroscientists who subscribe to the disease model must know that brains change over development. Their take on pathological brain change would have to be very specific in order to be convincing. For example, they would have to show that the kind (or extent or location) of brain change characteristic of addiction is nothing like that observed in normal learning and development. But this they cannot do. The kind of brain changes seen in addiction also show up when people take up rock collecting, fall in love, learn how to cook, or become obsessed with their appearance. The brain contains only a few major traffic routes for learning and goal seeking. And, like the main streets of a busy city, they are often under construction.  Brain disease may be a useful metaphor for how addiction seems, but it’s not a valid explanation for how it actually works.”
I really do feel it is worth taking the time to give mindfuless a go, as most people who practice it regularly tend to be very relaxed and centered and this really helps if you suffer from stress or cravings. If you have used substance abuse as a crutch, this can be a much more worthwhile alternative.



Commenting area

  1. When you are in the mood for biochemical research — on days when you are curious about what scientists are saying (and not always agreeing!), here’s a good read: Beyond the Influence, Ketcham & Asbury, Bantam Books, 2000.

  2. Thanks, I will have a look. I have read quite a lot about neuroplacity after I started looking at mindfulness. There are certainly different views on the subject. I much rather use the term illness compared to disease. I am aware of the book you refer to and it has had very mixed reviews. Some like it others are not so keen. This is usually the way with anything recovery based!
    I guess whatever helps the individual is the answer, but it is obvious many are not getting a form of treatment which is helping them.

  3. True. And while I’m looking for “the answer”, occasionally I get touchy about certain key words like “god” and “disease”, even when they are just used as short-cuts to bigger ideas about addiction. Sometimes I have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

  4. You may find this site interesting, it gets a lot of interesting people leaving comments. Here is the latest post

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