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Addiction – Disease or Coping Strategy?

I’ve been doing some more research recently around the topic of addiction for the new website, it’s something that is close to my heart due to my own issues with addiction in various forms and guises, but also because I have concluded that we approach addiction in all the wrong ways…

Addiction can manifest itself in a variety of ways, on the outside some appear more destructive than others. For example, you are far more likely to die a young death as a heroin addict as you might if you were addicted to gaming or shopping. However, the underlying truth is that both addictions are one and the same thing. Both the heroin addict and the compulsive shopper are running from the same thing.


My most personal and difficult fight was with the prescription drug Tramadol for seven years, and as a younger man, I was very partial to spending money on designer clothes, expensive cars and enjoying what I thought back then represented my success in life - a good job, with plenty of money. It didn’t matter back then that I hated the soul sucking environment that is corporate sales, it only mattered that it paid well.

So, I feel well placed to have an opinion these days as 46-year-old man who has both escaped the hell of opiate addiction and chooses a more simplistic life, I buy clothes from the charity shop, but more importantly, I let go of the idea that my addictions were just a disease that I had to manage and live with.

Which leads me back to the question - is addiction a disease, or is it a coping strategy?

A disease is something you manage, if it is uncurable, or, recover from, if it is curable, typically through the introduction of a prescription drug, and often for anxiety, depression, or withdrawal symptoms, like in the example of methadone for the heroin addict.

Methadone treats the symptoms of withdrawal, but it keeps the addict addicted regardless, if the methadone runs out, they will go straight back to heroin. Addicts who are imprisoned (often for crimes committed to feed the addiction) are given Methadone to ‘help’ with the withdrawal symptom – or a more cynical way of looking at this would be to keep them ‘docile’ whist they are in prison, and therefore ‘manageable’…they are then released as addicts 12 months later, with exactly what they went in with, addiction and no way of funding it…and so it goes on…

Given the alternative is trauma-based therapy for all addicts, you can see why this ‘cheap’ alternative remains the preferred solution, and indeed in the absence of funding to provide the right services, then perhaps it’s very understandable and possibly in some way compassionate to stick with the status quo.

That said my personal opinion is if we jotted up the total cost of the impact of addiction first and foremost to the lives of the people both addicted and the mental health of those around them (which should be the starting point), and add that to the cost of crime, impact on the NHS, funds invested in the police force to fight drugs (drug addicts need a drug dealer) it quickly adds up to…well lots of money I imagine…billions of pounds (cue Doctor Evil impression…)

Maybe then there is an argument to take a different approach, and to invest some ‘funds’ (its taxpayers money after all – ergo, yours…) in at least trialling different things?

But let’s save politics for another day…

We need to stop treating the addiction as disease or symptom, and we need to start treatin