The Great Debate: Is Addiction Really a Choice?

Stanton Peele, the author of, “The Diseasing of America” has an opinion about addiction that’s not all that uncommon. Everywhere we turn in America someone is addicted to something, food, sex, drugs, you name it. Although not all addictions are expressly diagnosable or recognized by the DSM-5, they’re still widely accepted and treated as addictions. So, what’s this popular opinion? That addiction is a choice. 

Go ahead, we’ll give you a minute to let that sink in and ask yourself what in the world these people could be thinking. Well, let us explain. As one psychologist, Jeff Schaler, explains, “Addiction is a behavior and all behaviors are choices.” We can see how this thought is then backed up with theories on how people can blame fast food retailers for obesity, but the truth of the matter is this – addiction is a disease of the brain, affecting individuals in ways that are still not fully understood. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a “disease that will waste your brain.” This official government policy isn’t just hearsay, it’s backed up by research. As Stephen Dewey of Brookhaven National Labs puts it, the disease of addiction is characterized by loss of control. The chemical changes that are made in the brain during and because of addiction are visible on brain scans, how could addicts fake that?

While addiction does make changes in the brain that make addicts feel powerless to their addiction, many of them still make the choice to get clean. It’s because of this that some scientists and former addicts themselves believe that addiction is in fact, a choice. What these researchers believe is that addiction being a choice isn’t as black and white as some people believe. Instead, they attribute addiction to choice and environment and they’ve had some success proving this theory in the lab.

As far as addiction goes, it doesn’t matter how anyone else feels about it, it matters how you feel about it. What we can be certain of is that you can beat addiction, whatever path you choose to get there is your decision alone, so don’ t let anyone’s’ perception of addiction cloud your confidence to beat this disease of the brain. 

Stossel, J. “Is Addiction Just a Matter of Choice?”. ABC News. (Website). April 2016

  • 2 Commentsby Likes|Date
  • i tend to have mixed feelings. addiction is far more than "a choice", as many addicts are in emotional hell...tormented by their inability to stop the addiction.... i can say for my own previous love addiction (codependency)... i wanted to NOT be addicted to this person...but at the same time i did not even understand what was really going on.  those who are in active addiction are operating at a certain consciousness level, and underneath there are some core issues that are beckoning for them to deal with. at least that's how it was for me.

    yet, i chose to journey toward recovery...healing..and wholeness. and it took years... but to just tell me to "choose" to up and quit, it's not as easy as it sounds.

    we all have free will....

    if you're reading this and you're an addict or alcoholic, i know you want to quit. you want freedom....and you've been trying... 

    keep trying...and you may have to reach out for help. we're not meant to go this life alone... choose recovery over and over...trying different things. i believe people can break free...but yes, make a decision and get on the road of recovery...
  • My personal belief is that the only choice an addict makes is choosing to try drugs or alcohol for the very first time. After that, I think addiction is dictated by that person's brain chemistry. While most people have brains that are wired in such a way that addiction won't become a problem after that first beer or snort of coke or heroin, there is a minority that have brains that are wired differently. For those people, the ability to choose whether to use again is overridden by the message from their brain. Their brain tells them, "I want more of that" and that signal prevails.

    That said, I'm always open to listening to new opinions and theories about addiction. I like a lot of what Stanton Peele has to say, especially when it comes to harm reduction. 

    Thanks for posting this. It's always good to hear other views!
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