Over on the NPR website Alva Noe (Philosopher, UC Berkeley) writes an interesting opinion blog (aren’t they all?) about why we shouldn’t call addiction a disease of the brain. As you will see from the hundreds of comments, he surely riled a bunch of people up. Some of the comments are quite clear, others just humorous. But I commend his blog for you to read. It makes you think about how some of our language regarding addiction unhelpfully narrows down the problem, thereby making it more difficult to pinpoint all that needs to change when fighting addiction.
Is addiction a disease of the brain? Following his logic, no. Is it a disease that involves the brain? Yes. We must recognize that we are not mere machines and as a result mental illness and addiction both must be viewed from socio-cultural-biological-relational-experiential-spitual-will perspective. A lot goes into creating an addiction. We ought not single out neural structures and activity as if that says all we need to know.
However, on the flip side, to suggest the that addiction isn’t a disease or a biological problem may also send the wrong message. In fact, addicts rarely can “just say no.” By the time they seek help their bodies are working against whatever little will power they have left.
So, addiction is a disease of the person. It may not qualify as a disease that we can identify on a specific cell, but the addicted person is no longer functioning properly and thus their entire person is diseased.