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illustration of map of North America with drug needles on top of it

Although there is still a long road to travel, our society’s public perception of addiction has changed dramatically in the past 30 – 40 years. A large part of this change has been due to the advancement in the medical science of addiction, or addictionology. For society to change its views on addiction, it was necessary to first understand that addiction is a disease. And, like any other chronic disease, addiction requires ongoing treatment. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly regarded alcoholism as a disease, as it is practically stated as fact in the ‘Big Book’, first published in 1939. But it would take decades of research to begin to understand the origins of addiction.

Once thought of as a, “moral problem,” the public perception of addiction is now looked upon as a treatable disease, not only by the medical community, but by an ever-growing segment of the public. As more and more potent drugs became available, such as the stimulants and opiates, addiction began to ravage more and more communities, with no boundaries regarding social status, ethnicity, or gender. This has allowed society to view addiction in the light, rather than in the shadows.

Alcoholism and drug addiction was once not openly spoken about. But, many high-profile members of society became willing to share their stories, from presidents, reporters, athletes, and famous Hollywood stars, people started disclosing the struggles that they suffered from due to addiction. Once this started happening, more and more people became willing to be honest about drug and alcohol use, because the stigma of having the disease was starting to lift.

Adding to this, it became understood that, other than drug addiction and alcoholism, there are other types of addiction that exist. Behaviors such as excessive internet usage, gambling, sex and shopping are being looked at as being addictions, rather than compulsive behaviors. Arguably, the behaviors associated with these types of addiction are different than those with substance abuse, they still create chaos for the sufferer and those around them.

Through better understanding the medical, social and psychological aspects of addiction, improved treatment options have been developed and are more readily available. For this to occur, it was necessary for the social views of addiction to change. Today, more than ever, those who suffer from addiction and their loved ones are ready and willing to seek help, as the shame and humiliation has begun to be lifted.

Understanding the physiology of drug addiction and alcoholism has prompted the development of numerous medications to treat addiction. This has greatly impacted the recovering community, as an adjunct to traditional treatment. From reducing mood swings, decreasing depression and anxiety, and decreasing cravings, the medications used in the treatment of addiction have changed the course of recovery for many. No longer solely relying on self-help groups and counseling, more have been able to enter and maintain recovery.

Finally, understanding the connection between mental health disorders and addiction has led to incredible advancements in the treatment of dual diagnosis (coexisting, co-occurring) disorders. When one suffers from a dual diagnosis disorder, it means that the person has a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder and a drug addiction or alcoholism. Once treated as separate disorders, dual diagnosis disorders are now treated concurrently.

To summarize, the changing social views of addiction has led to more people being willing to seek treatment and to the establishment of more treatment options. It is important that the medical community, and the general public continue to advocate for addiction research and for treatment for those who suffer from it. Despite the progress in decreasing the stigmatization of those suffering with drug addiction and alcoholism, society as a whole still tends to discriminate against these persons, but hope remains for advancement.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

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