Addiction is Not a Disease; It is Learned by the Brain and Can Be Unlearned


Salon discusses the ideas of neuroscientist Marc Lewis, a psychologist, former addict, and author of the book, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.

“Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain,” reports Salon.

“All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term ‘recovery’ because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)”

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse (Salon, June 27, 2015)


  1. I heard that alcoholism was in the liver, that alcoholics process alcohol differently in the liver than non alcoholics which might explain why this runs in families. Was there any validity to this research? I’m the epitome of non-alcoholic myself and can’t say it does much for me one way or the other, and I find it makes me feel ill instead of drunk. However, I’ve seen addiction to all sorts of things, including nail-biting, certain shopping habits, soap operas, meditation, and lying. Is there no difference between “addiction” and “habit” or is it the terminology we use, one sounding like pathological “disease,” and one sounding like repetitive action? They say an eating disorder can be an addiction. I suffer from ED myself and I don’t see it that way since I see it as nutritional.

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    • Addiction can be to a substance that has biological activity (like alcohol, heroin etc) or to simply doing something pleasurable. So I guess the metabolism can play a role in some forms of addiction. I’ve heard that people who get drunk more slowly and have more tolerance for alcohol become alcoholics more often but I have also not seen any research to really back it up.

      Bottomline – even if you have biological makeup more prone to alcoholism it’s still mainly the social and psychological factors that make it a problem.

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  2. I think there might be a bit of misunderstanding regarding alcohol and ‘disease’ and the AA. The AA as far as I know don’t recommend any type of medication for the treatment of ‘alcoholism’ (and for me this is what’s important).

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  3. I think that alcoholism and drug addiction are very real for some people. I also believe that in todays society, “treating” these things is a generator of great revenue and creates much job security. I think that the issue is sensationalized and bigger than it actually is. Like all other things under the umbrella of “mental illness” once one receives a label (addict/alcoholic/dual diagnosis) I think it is virtually impossible to have an atmosphere that allows expression of multiple ways to look at the problem or to “recover”. There seems to be a great amount of evidence regarding self-medicating and it can be a very episodic way of getting through difficult times that isn’t necessarily a life sentence.

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