Over the past year and a half, Scientific American has published a number of fine articles arguing that addiction is not a disease, that drugs are not the cause of addiction, and that social and societal factors are fundamental contributors to opioid addiction in general and the overdose crisis in particular. The dominant view, that addiction is a disease resulting from drug use, is gradually being eroded by these and other incisive critiques. Yet the disease model and its corollaries still prevail in the domains of research, policy setting, knowledge dissemination and treatment delivery, more in the United States than in any other country in the developed world. You might wonder: what are we waiting for?
The disease model remains dominant in the U.S. because of its stakeholders. First, the rehab industry, worth an estimated $35 billion per year, uses the disease nomenclature in a vast majority of its ads and slogans. Despite consistently low success rates, that’s not likely to stop because it pulls in the cash. Second, as long as addiction is labeled a disease, medical insurance providers can be required to pay for it.
Of course they do so as cheaply as possible, to the detriment of service quality, but they at least save governments the true costs of dealing with addiction through education, social support, employment initiatives and anti-poverty mechanisms. Third, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that funds roughly 90 percent of addiction research worldwide, is a medically oriented funder and policy setter, as are the American Society of Addiction Medicine and other similar bodies.