A Matter Of Choice
From Being Sober
We can define disease as a loss of function of an organ or organ system that produces a set of symptoms with a known or an unknown cause. For example, diabetes has a target organ, the pancreas. We know the cause, which is a dysfunction in insulin production or in insulin’s action at the cellular level. And the effect is that the body becomes glucose intolerant which results in high blood sugar levels that, over time, damage organs with small blood vessels, including the eyes, the kidneys and the heart.
Diabetes is a chronic, lifelong, incurable disease that is absolutely treatable. A patient with diabetes follows dietary, exercise, and medication instructions to attempt to normalize blood sugar levels. But if left untreated, diabetes takes its toll on the body. Chronic elevated blood sugar levels cause the small blood vessels in the peripheral nerves, eyes, heart and kidneys to thicken, eventually occluding proper blood flow. This can result in pain, numbness, and tingling in the lower extremities; destruction in the retina; early susceptibility to heart attack; and, most especially, renal failure-the awesome consequences of a disease run rampant.
Are the consequences preventable? Often, the answer is yes. If the diabetic follows a daily treatment regimen, she can live to be 100. Left untreated, diabetes is a fatal disease. That is, it must be treated one day a time. You don’t get credit today for the insulin you took last week.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is another example of a chronic, lifelong, fatal disease, treatable but not curable. The target organ system for MS is the brain and central nervous system. It is a chronic, organic disease of the brain with a relapsing and remitting pattern that may come and go with devastating symptoms.
For many years, alcoholism and drug addiction were considered a weak person’s inability to control desire. Most people believed that drinking was simply a matter of choice and that anyone with a drinking or drug problem was reckless, self-absorbed and irresponsible. Research dating back to the 1950’s, however, has led most medical professionals, myself included, to understand that addiction is not a moral issue but a disease-a brain disease to be specific and one that genetic links. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) continue to do important research on the complex genetic disorder known as addiction.
We have proof. Addiction is a disease. So why do most people, including addicts and their family members, find this fact difficult to accept? Perhaps it’s because addicts and alcoholics seeking their drug of choice have done some pretty bad things, transgressing the boundaries of society and the law. No doubt, an addict’s behaviors can be intolerable. Living with an addict can bring family members to the brink of insanity.
But addiction is a brain disease with signs and symptoms manifested in part as behaviors. And like diabetes or MS, alcoholism and addiction have a target organ, a cause, and effect, which we call symptoms.
Don’t hesitate to contact us or set an appointment for you or a loved one. Our health is the most important part of our lives!