Addiction has been treated under the guise of “disease” since 1956 when the American Medical Association declared it as such. It officially made its appearance in the 5th version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, making it officially recognized and treated, not as a behavioral issue, but a mental health issue.
Because addiction to drugs can manifest as a result of untreated mental sickness, the two are often seen as not mutually exclusive, which is why they almost always get bunched under the same umbrella of “mental illness.” But this attitude or belief system is not only inaccurate, it may be preventing people from getting the help they need.
When experts say that addiction is a symptom of a disease, what they are implying is that the act of doing something bad for you is literally uncontrollable, much like weight loss or lethargy is an uncontrollable symptom of cancer. The problem with that thought-process is it implies that addiction doesn’t require action, foresight, or responsibility; it is literally out of the hands of the victim. And, while there is no doubt that an addict feels out of control, that doesn’t mean he or she actually is. There are plenty of people that have quit drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. because they made the conscious decision to do so. Quitting an addiction undoubtedly mimics many signs of disease, but sanctioning it as such is actually making it harder for addicts to get affordable treatment.
But why? Why would the health industry purposely misclassify such a widespread and deadly issue?
Money. Lots and lots of money.
Since 2008, insurance companies have been required by law to cover certain aspects of treatment related to addiction. This means, whatever the overhead costs are, a percentage of treatment methods such as psychiatry, hospitalization, treatment centers, and mind-altering drugs must be picked up by insurance. Granted, this is only conducive to really good health insurance, but even bottom-tier insurance companies will be required to cover some treatment.
And this is a glorious setup for hospitals, psychiatrists, pharmaceutical companies and rehabilitation centers. Funneling diagnostic charges through insurance companies allow the professionals to increase their fees to astronomical proportions, profiting off the “illness” of addicts.
Assuming most addicts probably won’t enter rehabilitation unless they have hit rock bottom or have been court ordered, they unlikely have the money or insurance to pay for that treatment. This leaves addicts very few options to get help. Lack of insurance combined with outrageous medical bills is part of the reason untreated addiction has gone up exponentially over the last decade.
The average cost of a 90-day stint in rehab can put you back anywhere from $12,000 to $60,000. A few days in detox costs, on average, $1,500 and methadone treatment alone is roughly $5,000 a year. These prices may be fine if an addict happens to have phenomenal insurance and extra money to finance the deductible, co-pay, and charges not covered by insurance. But that’s highly unlikely if someone has been addicted to something for a long period of time. Insurance isn’t usually top priority on their list of things to pay for.
So, we’ve essentially shot ourselves in the foot as a society. We allowed “experts” the freedom to mislabel a systemic issue that is unilaterally connected with mental health as a “disease.” In doing so, we’ve marginalized addicts as “sick” and given healthcare professionals and drug companies full reign on how and if people can receive treatment. This creates only three possible outcomes: an addict never gets the help they need, an addict does opt for treatment, potentially leaving themselves and their families open to financial debt or bankruptcy, or (best case scenario) an addict finds the strength and support system to turn their lives around.
Until we start assessing addiction as a behavioral and social issue, treatment is likely to be unattainable for the vast majority of addicts. And those in the healthcare industry will continue to feast off a phantom sickness.