Boiling addiction down to a disease may hinder recovery

Global cocaine production reached an all-time high in 2017, breaking the previous year's record by 25 percent, the UN drugs and crime agency said Wednesday in its annual report.

According to a new US study, explaining to drug or alcohol-dependent people that there are effective treatments and therapies to overcome their addiction is more productive than telling them they are suffering from a disease.

How best to prod a person showing signs of addiction to substances such as drugs, tobacco or alcohol towards recovery? That's the question researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Richmond tried to answer with their study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. The scientists analyzed the way in which patients react when they are confronted with certain types of messaging around addiction.

The study recruited 214 men and women at grips with addiction. Participants were divided into two groups: 124 were given an article that described the risks and factors that can contribute to substance abuse and the multiple treatments available. The other 90 read an article that was focused on the changes that occur in the brain as addiction develops, comparing the phenomenon to a disease. 

The volunteers then answered a questionnaire that aimed to measure their perceived capacity to change their consumption of alcohol (or other drugs) and whether they were ready to engage in treatments for their addiction.

Decreasing stigma around addiction to encourage treatment

The researchers concluded that the 124 participants who read the first article expressed greater confidence in their ability to manage their condition, in relation to those who read the second article. The volunteers from the first group also asserted more marked intentions to consult a counsellor or engage in cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

"Overall, our findings support moving away from messaging about addiction solely as a disease. It's more complicated than that. Instead, the finding suggests that it would be more helpful to talk about the many different reasons people become addicted," said study co-author Sarah L. Desmarais.