Addiction Education
The Disease Model of Addiction

Addiction is a complicated condition. For decades people have been attempting to understand the ins and outs of substance abuse and dependence. How does it develop? Why are some people more at risk than others? How can addiction be effectively treated? People who struggle with addiction can’t simply take a pill to reverse the symptoms of their malady; they can’t undergo a surgical procedure or merely start eating better and exercising more. Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder that exists in the brain. It is a disorder that can be effectively treated, but never entirely cured.

At Pine Tree Recovery Center we take the disease model of addiction into careful account, treating substance abuse and dependence medically, with a variety of evidence-based modalities including intensive behavioral therapy, medication assisted treatment and holistic approaches to healing. Because addiction affects people in a variety of ways, an extremely individualized approach to recovery is the most beneficial. We offer in-depth addiction assessments to each of our clients upon admission to our medical detox program, allowing our clinical team to develop personalized treatment plans as well as unique, individualized plans for continuing care. We focus on more than a safe and pain-free drug and alcohol withdrawal. We focus on providing each of our clients with a solid and lasting foundation for prolonged sobriety. To learn more about the disease model or to begin your own personal journey of recovery, contact us today.

The Disease Model of Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) lists eleven diagnostic criteria that must be met in order for a person to be diagnosed with an addictive disorder. The DSM-V has become the gold standard for the American Psychiatric Association and other major medical organizations. The criteria listed in the text have been agreed upon by thousands of medical professionals, addiction specialists and licensed psychiatrists. The severity of a substance abuse disorder is determined by how many criteria any one person possesses; if a person possesses two or three symptoms, they are suffering from a mild substance abuse disorder. Four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance abuse disorder, and the presence of six or more symptoms indicates a severe substance abuse disorder.

The DSM-V criteria fall into four main categories:

  1. Impaired control
  2. Social problems
  3. Risky use, and
  4. Physical dependence

The eleven agreed upon criteria that indicate a diagnosable substance abuse disorder are:

  • Using a larger amount of a chemical substance than intended.
  • Attempting to cut down or quit entirely but being unable to do so without help.
  • Neglecting personal obligations and pre-existing responsibilities.
  • Experiencing issues in interpersonal relationships.
  • Avoiding activities that were previously enjoyed.
  • Compromised performance at work or at school.
  • An increase in risk-taking behaviors, like driving while under the influence or engaging in illegal activities in order to support a drug habit.
  • Continuing to use chemical substances despite an accumulation of personal consequences.
  • Continuing to use chemical substances despite medical advice to cut back or quit entirely.
  • Developing a physical tolerance, meaning more of the substance becomes required in order for the desired effects to be produced.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when substance use is stopped suddenly.

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The Moral Model vs. The Disease Model

People used to believe that addiction could be blamed on a lack of moral fitness or weak will power. During the earlier part of the 19th century, addiction was widely viewed as a sin. People who struggled with substance abuse and dependence were placed in jail or in psychiatric hospitals. As medicine continued to advance and research became more sophisticated, the disease model of addiction began to develop. Scientists began to understand that chemical substances actually change the makeup of the brain, altering cognitive function and making drug and alcohol use compulsive over time. People who struggled with addiction didn’t lack character. They weren’t morally flawed. They were suffering from a disease of the brain that caused them to prioritize substance use over even the most basic human needs.

The Disease Model Concepts:

  • Addiction is an irreversible condition; however, symptoms can be effectively treated and people can stay in remission.
  • The only way to treat addiction is with total abstinence from all mood and mind-altering substances.
  • People who struggle with addiction cannot control their intake. Their brain tells their bodies to use or drink. Once they ingest one drink or any other mind-altering substance they are driven by an overpowering compulsion to keep drinking or using.
  • The disease of addiction doesn’t exist on a continuum; a person is either afflicted or they aren’t.
  • Addiction is progressive if left untreated — over time it gets worse, never better.

Benefits of Discovering the Disease Model:

  • Instead of a legal issue, drug abuse and addiction are considered medical issues. If a person struggles with addiction they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to receive the help they need.
The disease model of addiction
  • People who struggle with addiction (and their loved ones) better understand their behavior. This model allows them to come from a place of compassion and understanding rather than blame and frustration.
  • The disease model provides a treatment approach that works for the majority of people. When a person abstains from using drugs and/or alcohol for a prolonged period of time they are more capable of learning the coping mechanisms needed to prevent relapse.
  • The disease model helps some people overcome feelings of guilt and shame that often go hand-in-hand with addiction. They better understand that at a certain point they became powerless.

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The Disease Model & Hitting Rock Bottom

Like other chronic illnesses, symptoms associated with addiction will continue to worsen over time unless they are adequately treated. The earlier an addiction is treated, the better the chance of long-term sobriety becomes. If you know someone who has been struggling with a moderate or severe addiction, there are several important things to consider. First of all, treatment does not necessarily have to be desired in order to be effective. In some cases a professionally staged intervention might become necessary. Secondly, the idea of allowing a loved one to “hit rock bottom” can be detrimental. The idea that a person should wait for their symptoms to become more severe before treatment is sought can be dangerous, and can lead to a range of life-threatening issues. If your addicted loved one lacks self-motivation there are still ways in which you can help. We offer crisis intervention services to families in need.

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    At Pine Tree Recovery Center we have developed an admissions process that is simple and straightforward, and can be completed over the phone within minutes. The moment you or your loved one makes the decision to contact us one of our knowledgeable and compassionate Treatment Advisors will be available to walk you through the process. The process begins with an initial assessment, which helps our clinical team determine which detox methods are going to be the most effective for your unique case. Once the assessment is complete we go over potential coverage options and arrange transportation to our Portland, Maine detox facility. We understand how overwhelming active addiction can be, and we know by the time you or your loved one is ready to commit to recovery, you likely have little emotional energy left to smooth out the finer details. The good news is we are available to walk you through every single step pf the process from start to finish. Contact us today to get started.