Nov 24

Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

Is addiction a disease or a choice? The answer to this question has plagued many addicts, doctors, and advocates in Ontario especially with the gross amount of misinformation out there. For this article, we are going to be looking at the facts provided by some of the top-notch health experts from around and how they view addiction not just personal opinions. 

What does the World Health Organization say?

The World Health Organization recognizes substance addiction, including alcoholism, nicotine and drug addiction all as diseases. Our belief is that it’s a very serious, life-threatening disease that if left untreated, will eventually lead to death.

What does the Canadian Medical Association say?

Simply put The Canadian Medical Association recognizes addiction as a chronic, treatable disease and urges that it be included in national and provincial/territorial efforts to improve chronic disease management.

What does the American Medical Association say?

The American Medical Association (AMA) recognized alcoholism as an illness in 1956 and addiction as a disease in the 1987 National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also classifies addiction as a disease, labelling addiction as a chronic relapsing disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.

Is Addiction Considered a Disability in Ontario?

Drug and alcohol addictions are disabilities by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. There is often significant cross-over between addictions and mental health issues, with many people experiencing both. People with addiction disabilities have the same right to be free from discrimination as other people.

People with addictions may face unique experiences of marginalization and disadvantage. These may be due to extreme stigma, lack of societal understanding, stereotyping and criminalization of their addictions – for example, where these involve illegal substances. The Ontario Appeal Court has endorsed the view that:

Addiction is a disability that carries with it great social stigma and that this stigmatization is compounded where an addicted person is also part of another stigmatized group, such as those on social assistance.

According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) which is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field, these are the grime statistics of those affected by Mental Illness and/or Substance Abuse in Ontario. 

Apparently, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have—or have had—a mental illness.

  • 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.
  • Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group.
  • 34% of Ontario high-school students indicate a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression) and 14% indicate a serious level of psychological distress.
  • Men have higher rates of addiction than women, while women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Mental and physical health are linked. People with a long-term medical condition such as chronic pain are much more likely to also experience mood disorders. Conversely, people with a mood disorder are at a much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition.
  • People with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use problem compared to the general population. At least 20% of people with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem. For people with schizophrenia, the number may be as high as 50%.
  • Similarly, people with substance use problems are up to 3 times more likely to have a mental illness. More than 15% of people with a substance use problem have a co-occurring mental illness.
  • Canadians in the lowest income group are 3 to 4 times more likely than those in the highest income group to report poor to fair mental health.
  • Studies in various Canadian cities indicate that between 23% and 67% of homeless people report having a mental illness.

First off addiction in Canada is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you or with no regards to the consequences that arise.  Addiction is most commonly associated with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling and nicotine, but it’s possible for Canadians to become addicted to just about anything, including: 

  • Work – some people are obsessed with their work to the extent that they become physically exhausted; if your relationship, family and social life are affected and you never take holidays, you may be addicted to work
  • Internet/Gaming/Social Media – as computer and mobile phone use has increased, so too addictions to them. Many people may spend hours each day and night scrolling, surfing the net or gaming while neglecting other aspects of their lives.
  • Shopping – shopping becomes an addiction when you buy things you don’t need or want to achieve a buzz; this is quickly followed by feelings of guilt, shame or despair.

The Disease Model of Addiction – History and Explanation:

The traditional medical model of disease only requires the presence of an abnormal condition that induces distress, discomfort, or dysfunction to the affected person. However, the contemporary medical model states that addiction occurs due to changes in the mesolimbic pathway in the brain. It also addresses the fact that such disease may be influenced by other sociological, psychological or biological factors, even though the mechanisms of these factors are not completely understood. Using the contemporary medical model, addiction was categorized as a disease.

Controversy about the Disease Model of Addiction in Ontario:

There is much controversy surrounding the idea that drug addiction is a disease. The criticisms are largely by those who subscribe to the life-process model of addiction. The life-process model of addiction is the opinion that addiction is a source of gratification and habitual response and not a disease.

They believe that addiction shouldn’t be called a disease or disorder since the biological mechanisms that point to addictive behaviour have not been confirmed. They are of the opinion that an addict can defeat addiction through personal willpower and by repairing relationships.

So is Addiction a Choice?

Many people will argue and say that the first initial drink or drug is always a choice. No argument there. But what about the Canadians that have never struggled with any type of substance abuse? For instance, someone that has major surgery and is prescribed narcotics trusting that their doctor will make the best decision in treating them. They take them as directed and become physically dependent. Was it a choice for them? 

Consider for a moment, for argument’s sake, diabetes in Canada. It is caused partly by genetics and partly by poor choices. Along with other preventative diseases like cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and certain cancers, there is a level of choice in the beginning whether you want to risk getting it or not. Many diseases can even be reversed by a healthier lifestyle. So, why do we look at addiction any different? We don’t look at someone diagnosed with lung cancer as a bad person, so why should we be any different with an addict/alcoholic? And we certainly don’t start blaming them for choosing this. At some point in the addiction, the power of choice was taken away. Using no longer because of a choice.

So What Does it Mean to be Addicted?

Basically, addiction rewires the brain, creating an imbalance of the reward, motivation and memory systems. The disease theory of addiction defines addiction as a compulsive disorder that occurs due to chemical changes in the brain, which is induced by regular abuse of drugs and or alcohol rather than a conscious decision.

As stated above, the brain ensures that we repeat certain things that result in pleasure or rewards. So, when we have happy bonds in our lives we don’t need the use of drugs or alcohol. When we don’t have those bonds, our brain senses the pleasure in using and tells us this is what we’ve been needing all along.

What Causes Addictions?

There are lots of reasons why addictions begin. In the case of drugs, alcohol and nicotine, these substances affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings can be enjoyable and create a powerful urge to use the substances again. 

Gambling may result in a similar mental high after a win, followed by a strong urge to try again and recreate that feeling. This can develop into a habit that becomes very hard to stop.

Being addicted to something means that not having it causes withdrawal symptoms and lows. This can be very unpleasant for the addict so it becomes easier to carry on having or doing what you crave, and so the cycle continues. Often, an addiction gets out of control because you need more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the high.

Signs of an Addiction:

  • Alcohol or drug cravings
  • Tolerance
  • The emergence of withdrawal symptoms when the use of the substance is reduced or discontinued
  • Failed attempts to quit the substance abuse
  • Substance abuse interfering with obligations
  • Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed because of substance abuse
  • Repetitive use of a substance despite negative physical or social consequences
  • Spending excessive amounts of time and resourcing in obtaining and using the substance

Treatment under the Disease Model of Addiction in Ontario:

The disease model of addiction recognizes that adequate private treatment is possible. The treatment program largely depends on your exact needs and goals. Private rehab facilities in Ontario basically offer two types of programs: outpatient and inpatient treatments. In inpatient treatment, patients live at the rehab centre full-time ranging from a few weeks to a few months. In outpatient treatment, patients commute from their homes in Toronto or sober living houses in Ontario.

Getting Private Addiction and Intervention Help in Ontario:

Hopefully, you have come to accept that you are not a bad person; just a sick person needing treatment for their illness It takes a lot of courage to ask for help and we won’t let you down. Addiction is not a disease that can be fought alone and we are here to guide and help with every step of your recovery. Our experienced Canadian drug and alcohol professionals in Ontario are here for you. Just call or message us today.

We focus our care on you as a total individual, supporting your physical and mental well-being at every step. Whether you just need a private treatment centre or a private detox and treatment centre we will help guide you through the process and options available to you. 

Keep in mind what treatment option works for one person may not work for another. Sometimes an inpatient treatment option is best and sometimes an outpatient treatment option is a better way to go. Recovery and treatment in Ontario should not be a one size fits all system. That is another reason we believe in the private approach to drug and alcohol rehab in Canada. We devote ourselves to your safety and comfort, in non-hospital settings designed to help you progress and get your life back on track. 

Our team of local Ontario professional addiction interventionists, believe in supporting you and your family not just while you’re at treatment but after you check out as well. Once you have established a relationship with us, we will be there for you always. Whether you simply have questions or concerns or whether you need additional support in your recovery process we don’t turn our backs on you or your family. We are committed to not just get you well but to help you establish a path that will let you create the life you have always wanted to live free from the chains of addiction

Do not hesitate to reach out and call us today for your free consultation for yourself or to schedule an intervention for your loved one. It is never too soon. 1-888-963-9116 or at We are waiting to help you now and can be meeting with you anywhere in Canada in person within 48 hours.

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