Addiction and the Disease Model

L0038329 An absinthe addict eyeing three glasses on a table;

This is part one of a series on addictions. You can find the series here: My Writing.

The Disease Model

Up until the 20th Century, society viewed addictive behavior as a moral issue. Unfortunately, many people still do. Some people still believe this, I believe that the disease model of addiction is much more accurate and helpful to people with addictions of all types who want to stop.

These days, many authorities write about the science of addiction. This allows them to remain authorities and treat addiction with different medical treatments. I disagree with this approach except for detox. I think it’s sad that many of those treatments become addictions themselves.

Which I write about addictions, I’m naming an entire group or category of behaviors. Drug addiction, alcoholism, food addiction, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, debting, relationship addiction, sex addiction, and smoking.

Addictions of all kinds impact every area of your life. This means that alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, food addiction, codependency and so on can ruin your relationships and destroy everything in your life.

In the disease model, heredity plays a part in your abnormal reaction to the drug, addictive substance or behavior of your choice. Addictions also involve some kind of allergy to the chemical or chemicals produced by the substance or your actions. The allergy concept is easier to see with chemical use addictions. You are directly allergic to your drug of choice. But in behavior addictions like gambling, stealing or sex, you are addicted to the hormones produced by your body when you gamble or have compulsive sex.

Here is how this works. In addictive disease, you have an ABNORMAL reaction to these chemicals. Most people react one way. You react, at least in the beginning, with a happier, more functioning, and seemingly better fashion than most people. You think faster, your reaction time is quicker, you are happier, and you really are smarter. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, caffeine or the endorphins produced by destructive behaviors feel different to you than they do to other people. This is why you do it again and again and again.

Enter now the issues of tolerance and progression. This is the beginning of an addictive disease. Your disease begins to impact your character, your relationships, and your life. Tolerance means that you reach a point where the amount of your favorite substance or behavior no longer gives you the feelings and reaction you expected. Progression means that your tolerance continues to build. You now need more of that substance or behavior than before. People’s tolerance to their substances continues to progress until they stop all addictive behavior or they die.

Progression and tolerance have an incredibly powerful and subtle effect on your functioning separate and apart from your addictive substance or behavior. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you are in your life. Your addictive need (now named obsession and compulsion) will insidiously replace what you value in your life.

People in Your World

People in your world change in their value to you. They become objects to you who are in some relation to your obsession and compulsion. There are people who can help or join you in your disease. Other people will allow you to do your thing and ignore your increasingly outrageous behavior. Some people are barriers and get in your way, try to stop you. Then there are those you unwittingly maneuver into situations where you can create crises to justify your addictive disease.

Any contracts or personal agreements you have made in the past are no longer valid. You are not capable of keeping your word. Your loyalty is now to your addiction.

Most people have an integrity place inside them. This is your inner touchstone. When a person has progressed to the point of active addiction, the only relationship of value left is their connection and ability to engage in their disease. Everything else is secondary or useful to their disease. Once you reach this point, your disease replaces your integrity. Your disease IS your touchstone.

Consequences and Progression

The consequences you experience for your behavior while indulging in your drug or behavior of choice also progress along several continuums. You face personal consequences that increase over time starting with things like taking less personal care of yourself. Or feeling really uncomfortable in situations where there is no chance of you indulging in your drug of choice. You make mistakes and unwittingly harm others. This gets worse over time.

People you hardly know complain to you about your behavior. Then the people you love complain about how you act. Eventually, your employer complains to you about your actions. Finally, your family leaves you and you loose your job or many jobs.

Further down the road are legal consequences like being arrested for driving under the influence or embezzling money. As you find yourself now compelled to seek more and more of your substance, you also find yourself doing things that are contrary to your values and the values of society. You remember your integrity touchstone with some degree of shame.

Sadly, if you are the person with addictive disease or behaviors, you will be the last person to know that your problem is addiction. All addictions come with a built-in defensive system designed to keep you imprisoned in your own destruction. Without knowing it, people use many forms of mental defenses to keep the horror of their behavior away from their consciousness. Unfortunately, your defenses keep you in ignorance of your life situation and allow you to continue your personal path to self-destruction.


For those of you who are questioning your behavior, there are twelve-step programs for all of the above. You can choose from, for example-Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Alanon, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, Sexaholics or Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addictions Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, and Debtors Anonymous.

People have questioned the value of these programs, and admittedly they are not for everyone. However, in all my years of working with people, they simply get better and faster relief from whatever issues are plaguing them when they attend a 12-step program and actively work it.

Some people go into a treatment program. Others hire a recovery coach. Some seek out spiritual help from their church. My beliefs involve the power of 12-step recovery. From what I saw as a licensed therapist, people who actively attend and work their 12-step program transform their lives.

How Life Coaching Can Help

The place for life coaching is after you’ve actively participated in your 12-step program. This means you have stopped taking your drug or indulging in your behavior of choice. You go to 12-step meetings where you now fit in and feel a sense of belonging. You have a sponsor. You work steps all the way through the 12th step. You do service in your group and/or fellowship. And most importantly of all, these things allow you to live a life totally incompatible with active disease.

And now, you feel an inner drive to go to school, develop a mutually satisfying relationship, or any other goal that’s been a secret dream of yours. It’s kind of pressing on you demanding your attention. You feel a need for some help getting started and achieving those goals.

If you’ve done your footwork and are ready to live your dreams, contact me for life coaching.


Telephone: (615) 464-3791

Picture from An absinthe addict eyeing three glasses on a table; advertisement for film “Absinthe” by the Gem Motion Picture Company.

©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved


4 responses

  1. […] the disease concept I wrote about in Addiction and the Disease Model? Here is a description of some research that enlightens us regarding this issue. The research […]


  2. […] There is a vast difference between healthy charity or charitable behavior and relationship addiction. Remember with addiction we have the following characteristics: The disease model, heredity, allergy, abnormal reactions, tolerance, progression, consequences, and denial. You can read about that here: Addiction and the Disease Model. […]


  3. […] this article, we will not be discussing sex. We will be discussing addiction. Remember that in the disease model of addiction, first, we have heredity. A sex addict can look at the history of his or her family and see quite a […]


  4. Hello,I log on to your blog named “Addiction and the Disease Model | Coleman Life Coaching” regularly.Your writing style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing! And you can look our website about love spells.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: