It’s a Health Issue – Can We Treat Addiction as a Disordered Behavior?

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Treat Addiction As A Disordered Behavior

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Drug rehab centers have often defined addiction as a disease and treated it as such. However, holistic drug rehab also recognizes addiction as a symptom in which the underlying causes have to be treated as well to assure long term sobriety. Often addiction exists in a patient in addition to another behavioral disorder. In such cases, both conditions have to be addressed together as continued drug abuse will impede treatment for disordered behavior, yet the abuse is going to be nearly untreatable as long as the separate behavioral problems remain.

Behavioral Disorders

True behavioral disorders fall into two classes, that of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD) which can resemble each other but have definitive nuances in how they are diagnosed. ODD tends to present with emotional issues such as becoming easily angered, purposely angering others, and holding deep feelings of resentment and spite. CD, on the other hand, shows signs of the same emotions regardless of whether they truly exist in the patient but rather present in the patient’s behavior in which they lash out with more than an outburst of anger but with problematic actions. Lying, stealing, animal abuse, or starting physical fights can be more problematic than yelling in a fit of anger.

Initial Diagnosis and Treatment

Although a drug intervention specialist may be acutely aware of the addict’s problem behaviors, the drug intervention is usually treated more as an emergency counter to the addiction itself. At such point in time, the drug intervention specialist isn’t equipped to determine whether the addiction is either a symptom or cause of the disordered behavior or if the two exist independently. Such a diagnosis requires more in-depth counseling and appraisal by an in-house drug rehab professional who has time to further review the patient’s thoughts and actions.

Difficulties with Defining Addiction as a Disease

Issues do come up with defining addiction as a disease, partly because of the subjective nature of the diagnosis. Although drug rehab is required in either case, someone who has problems with overuse of drugs or alcohol may not be an addict in the true sense of addictive behavior. Addiction is typically considered to be the case when someone cannot function on a daily basis without their drug of choice and suffers immediate withdrawal symptoms when deprived of that drug, but such a definition raises the question as to how to define another person who functions normally at work while sober, but immediately needs to use upon leaving the job.

Another issue is whether the patient was predisposed to addiction through genetics, or whether overuse of the drug led to a reliance of the body and mind on the drug. Drug addiction centers are not always able to make such a determination even though such knowledge could potentially change individual treatment plans.

The Similarities of Treatment for Addiction and Traditional Disease

Drug rehab centers have found the best way to treat addiction is as a disease because doing so allows for proven treatments to be used, perhaps individually tailored for each patient. The first step is typically through a drug intervention, which is essentially explaining the disease and treatment plan to the patient. Drug rehab centers are similar to a hospital by providing the initial treatment and preparing the patient for what it means to have the disease. Ongoing counseling and outpatient treatment are comparable to routine doctor visits for a more traditional disease to hopefully prevent a remission or at least treat it promptly.

Addiction Combined with Mental Illness

A further consideration which begins with the initial assessment of the drug intervention specialist is whether behavioral disorders and addiction exist independently of each other rather than one being a result of the other, or if there are other mental illnesses than ODD or CD involved. Certain mental illnesses, although not technically a behavioral disorder in and of themselves, can present with problematic behavior. Such a diagnosis typically requires the expertise of a psychiatrist with a specialization in the treatment of addiction, such as the professionals often found in drug treatment centers.


The bottom line is that although to the layman drug and alcohol addiction may seem to be a behavioral disorder, in clinical language they are separate terms. They do tend to go together, but it can be difficult for someone who isn’t an experienced professional to determine which is the prominent illness and which is the symptom. That is why treatment typically needs to start with a professional drug intervention as an initial assessment of the patient, followed by appropriate inpatient and outpatient treatment along with counseling. Such a process allows a doctor to determine the best outcome for the situation so the addict and family can return to a satisfying and fulfilling life.

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