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Is drug addiction only a physical disease?

The biological model of drug addiction

Ask the average man or woman to define addiction and they will tell you in so many words that it is a chemical dependence. A person becomes used to relying on a substance, and their bodies crave more and more of the same until they’re hooked.

That is actually a nice nonprofessionals description of the physical phenomena of chemical tolerance and withdrawal. It has little, however, to do with addiction.

Chemical dependency + detox = cure?

If addiction were chemical dependency, then the solution for addiction would be detox. Once you can get through the drying-out period, you’re home free. However, if this were the case, rehabs wouldn’t have so much return business, and drunk tanks would sober-up people for life.

No, if that were what addiction really was (a mere dependency of the body) then addicts wouldn’t baffle their friends and families by getting clean, starting to put their lives back in order, then tragically inexplicably relapsing for no apparent reason at all. No, if addiction were synonymous with physical dependence on a substance, we still wouldn’t understand why the addict, even after long periods of chemical sobriety, is drawn like a moth to the flame, to be burned again. Furthermore, if addiction were really just chemical dependence, why are some people addicted to sex, gambling, and other processes that have nothing to do with introducing a foreign chemical into the body’s system at all?

Chemical dependence is a physical problem, and it has a physical solution. Medical doctors can cure a patient of a chemical dependence. Heck, the deputy at the county jail can, too. If your body is dependent on a chemical, then hold tight, and get ready to feel real sick for a while until your system regains its natural equilibrium.

But addiction doesn’t work like that. Addiction stays with a person indeed, it works even harder even when the body is no longer physically dependent on his or her drug of choice.

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Addiction solutions

Are you interested in exploring more about the nature, cause and solution for addiction?  Check out Rabbi Taub’s new book God of Our Understanding, on sale at Amazon now.

Photo credit: Stanford Medical History Center

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One Response to “Is drug addiction only a physical disease?
Dollface
9:38 pm November 18th, 2011

Addiction or drug dependency is a living problem that has physical manifestations that’s all..
Of course that’s all encompasses a hell of a lot. Ask me and I’ll tell ya, and at age 60 (who’d a thunk I’d a lived so long; I woulda taken better care of myself as the old guy said) I oughta know. Luckily folks take me for forty..so I guess in addiction terms 60 is the new 40 at least if you have good genes (and good jeans!)
Between my pediphile brother, caused doubtlessly by my abusive mother, who was screwed by my doting grandfather (the bastard never touched me thank goodness, but no thanks to her, she sold me to him, but my dad was watching out for me) my baby dying, aforementioned mom getting murdered, and body never found, (wonderful aforementioned grandad and mother never even picked up the phone to call police to look for her, what would the neighbours say) and a plethora of other s___ like both parents being alcoholics as well as11/12 of my father’s family..I really didn’t stand a chance.
There’s a book of hope and salvation in there somewhere and I am now a counselor so call me if you got a problem..I ‘m just getting off the methadone, cause I wanted to be drug addict ever since I saw the pictures of the guy in the trenchcoat approaching the kids in the Grade 9 health book..where is that guy? I thought. I found him, but out west from Prince Edward Island where there were guys in trench coats galore only too happy to help me get addicted..to speed at first but as a Buddhist I wanted heroin for instant nirvana..what a short cut man, but only for a minute then I clued in that enlightenment didn’t come that easy to Siddhartha, but by that time I was gone baby gone.

About Rabbi Shais Taub

Rabbi Shais Taub is one of today's most respected young scholars of Jewish spirituality and practice. National Public Radio called him "an expert in Jewish mysticism and the Twelve Steps." He is the author of God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction.

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