I was just reading a great article in the 12 Step Gazette about the controversy surrounding the word 'disease' in relation to addiction. (The newsletter is here as a .pdf file, and you can find the article titled The Disease Concept of Addiction Revisited on page 22.) Calling addiction a disease has varied responses, and really, I can understand most people's reactions to this. If you know someone who is an alcoholic or addict, and they are horrible to their family, or completely irresponsible with their job or money, or just plain mean when they drink, or all of the above, and you hear them say that they have a disease, then it's very easy to dismiss this title. You don't get to get away with this behavior by using this 'disease' title as your excuse.
But I think this article makes some great points about addiction really being a disease. For me, I think it's about context and intent. I don't say that I have a disease so that I can be released from responsibility or have an excuse for my past behavior. Rather, I know I have a disease - one that could now be considered in remission, if you will - that will kill me if left untreated.
From the article:
"To start, scientific data can no more “prove” that addiction is a disease than it can “prove” that the sky is blue. Either we all agree that the color of the sky is sufficiently like everything else we call “blue,” or we agree to call it something else. In the same way, asserting that addiction is a
disease cannot be proven by scientific data. A disease concept is really a theory of addiction—a way of showing that addiction is like all the other things we generally accept as diseases. Although it may sound strange, when we say that alcoholism or drug addiction is a disease, we
are not talking about the behavior of drinking or using. Behavior might signify the presence of a disease, but behavior itself cannot be a disease."
I really appreciated this article, and wanted to pass it along to anyone with questions about this topic.