June 21, 2021 – Is calling addiction a disease more harmful than helpful? It’s complicated … but the answer is Yes.

To disease, or not to disease? In addiction circles, that is still the controversial question, despite its official, decades-long recognition as such by the American Medical Association (AMA).

The concept of alcoholism (and through it addiction) being a disease dates back centuries, and began to gain prominence in the 19th Century. In part due to the unprecedented success the then-two-decade-old Alcoholics Anonymous was showing in helping sufferers achieve and maintain sobriety, the AMA designated alcoholism an “illness” in 1956. In 1987, the AMA went a step further, formally classifying addiction as a disease.

Alcoholics Anonymous’ role in addiction’s disease designation was indirect. While the AA program certainly resembled a clinical approach to arresting a clear affliction – a process involving recognizing and addressing both a physical compulsion and a mental obsession – the organization itself neither originated nor promulgated such a formal medical distinction.


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