When someone has substance abuse issues, many people attempt to comfort or encourage them by saying “addiction is a disease.” This phrase, though well-meaning in its intention, may actually work against the message you want to send. By describing addiction as a disease, people believe they are communicating sympathy and spreading awareness about the unrelenting nature of addiction. However, a study conducted by the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found quite a different outcome.
More than 200 men and women with substance abuse issues were divided and observed after half were told addiction is a disease and can physically modify brain chemistry over time. The other half were given a “growth mindset message” which focused on the assortment of factors which can play a part in addiction as well as realistic strategies to fight it. This research proved the new method made a significant difference and has the potential to change an addicted person’s mentality. Those given the “growth mindset message” were encouraged in their abilities to overcome addiction, in part to a decreased sense of stigma associated with seeking treatment and recovery.
Those who were told their addiction is a disease felt a loss of agency and control over their lives. Classifying addiction as an incurable illness was proven to be the wrong messaging, as it indicates a lack of hope for change. Though addiction may feel like a life sentence, it can be overcome.
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