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Addiction & Treatment

Is Addiction Like Heart Disease?

Clearly diabetes is nothing like alcoholism and addiction, but what about heart disease? The term "heart disease," also known as cardiovascular disease, covers a broad spectrum of abnormalities. Some of the more common heart diseases include atherosclerosis, heart attack, heart failure, heart valve problems andarrhythmias such as bradycardia, tachycardia and atrial fibrillation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011 there were 596,577 fatalities from heart disease. Further, according to the CDC, in 2011 the number of alcohol-induced deaths were 26,654 and again, according to the CDC in 2007 there were 27,000 deaths attributed to drug use (other than alcohol). So, with respect to prevalence, there are 22 times more fatalities annually from heart disease than from either alcoholism or drug addiction.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States of America. Saying alcoholism and addiction is just like heart disease marginalizes the catastrophic effect that heart disease has on society. It's like heart disease is like saying the shipwrecks of the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald were boating accidents.

Moving beyond the disparity between heart disease and alcoholism and addiction on society, there exist no scientific similarities. Heart disease runs in families, i.e. there are genetic markers that predispose the next generation to heart disease. Nearly everyone who displays the genetic predisposition for heart disease experiences some form of the disease during their lifetime. Despite hundreds of thousands of research hours devoted to identifying genetic markers for an alcoholism and/or addiction genetic predisposition, none have been found. Perhaps it’s because alcoholism and addiction are behaviors, and genes don’t dictate behaviors.

Behaviors are cognitively chosen. To wit, people that drink alcohol and/or use drugs, regardless of how much, how long or how often, must on each and every occasion cognitively make the choice to drink and/or use. Contrary to popular belief, there is no mystery why people choose to use alcohol and/or drugs. They choose to use alcohol and/or drugs because they like the effects, quite without regard to any and all potential consequences.

How does that behavior compare with heart disease? Heart disease is not a behavior. Some behaviors may exacerbate heart disease, but the behaviors themselves are not the disease. Heart disease is not a chosen behavior. And to be "just like" alcoholism and addiction, people with heart disease would say things like:  "I really loved that last heart attack — it was awesome, man" or "This heart failure is the best stuff, ever. " If people could choose not to have heart disease, one can reasonably speculate that there would be no heart disease. To intimate that alcoholism and addiction are just like heart disease is just wrong-headed.