The Medical Model of Addiction

By Lester Long Jr.

Medical Model of Addiction

The Medical Model of Addiction is a theory of addiction that propagates addiction is a medical problem not a moral one. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2018) explains that the Medical Model of Addiction contends that addiction is a disease that is caused by an altering of brain chemicals. Individuals who use; develop a compulsive and obsessive desire for the drugs or alcohol and that once used, it triggers the pleasure chemical in the brain and there is an uncontrollable need to continue. The disease or medical model contends that recovery treatment involves abstinence and psychosocial education and counseling. Shatterprooof (2021) points that all major medical associations and institutes agree that addiction is an illness that requires treatment. It explains that research shows the human brain is wired to reward individuals when they do something pleasurable or exciting and addiction feeds off this brain activity. Some of things that activates this reward system can be related to exercising, eating, and/or other behaviors. These behaviors, when accomplished, are directly linked to triggering neurotransmitters called dopamine: the chemical that gives feelings of pleasure when one is presented with pleasurable stimuli. This chemical’s activation is the bases behind addiction because it not only brings about a good feeling but encourages one to repeat the behaviors.

Bevilacque and Goldman (2009) point out that addiction is a common and complex disease that is tied together by shared genetic and environmental etiological factors. It is frequently chronic, with a reoccurring and relapse tendency. They further explain that genetic research and other analyses helps to not only clarify the origin of addiction but helps destigmatize addiction which leads to a greater understanding for treatment necessity. Understanding genetic factors in etiology and treatment responses help to enable the individualization of prevention and treatment, as well as the identification of new therapeutic targets. The American Psychological Association (APA) (2008) explains that at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factor.

There is also evidence that environmental factors also play an important role in addiction and addictive behaviors. Psychology Today (2018) points out that there are 6 environmental factors that are believed to lead to addiction. These 6 environmental factors are extremely influential. Psychology Today explains individuals who associate with those who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to engage in that behavior too. In addition, when one is around others who use, when the substances flow in quantity and variety, so does the individual’s own behaviors. Research points out that there are three main environmental factors that seem to influence addiction the most: family dynamics and interactions, friends and associations, and the media (social and general).

Even though the Medical Model of Addiction is scientifically accepted by medical professionals as well as society in general, there are others that think addiction is still a matter of choice and in some cases a moral deficiency. There are those who aspired to what is known as the Moral Model of Addiction. Miller (2014) points out that the Moral Model promulgates that substance users are ‘degenerates and that alcoholism is a moral weakness. The Moral Model posits that the individual abuses their drugs of choice because they have a moral weakness and the optimal way of addressing their addictive behaviors is punishment not treatment. Just Believe (2018) explains that those who accept the moral model of addiction argue that the individual addict uses substances because he or she wants to and is irresponsible, impulsive, and engages in careless behaviors due to a character deficit.

There are other addictions that affect aspects of society other substance addiction. One of those areas affected by addiction is gambling. According to Mayo Clinic (2016) explains “Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction” (p.1). When an individual has a problem with compulsive gambling, they may continually chase bets that lead to losses, attempt to hide negative behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support their addiction. The Mayo Clinic posits that compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives. Although treating compulsive gambling may be difficult for many individuals who struggle with compulsive gambling; recovery like that of substance addiction can be accomplished with professional treatment.

The Medical Model of Addiction is still evolving as research continuously seek more information on the causes of addiction. Over the years, many different theories and concepts have emerged on addiction and how to treat addiction. However, the primary goal remains getting individuals back to a healthy state physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Despite many efforts in this direction, addiction and addiction related deaths remains one of the highest causes in the United States. It daily and regularly destroys other aspects of lives as well. Therefore, no matter what your view may be for the causes of addiction; whether you are a person who believe in the medical model or the moral approach, everyone can agree that addiction affects all aspects of society.


APA (2008) Genes Matter in Addiction. Retrieved January 23, 2022 from

Bevilacque, L and Goldman, D (2009), Genes and Addictions. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from

Just Believe (2018),Approaches to Addiction: The Moral Model vs. Medical Model. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from

Mayo Clinic (2016), Compulsive Gambling. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from

Miller, G. (2014), Learning the Language of Addiction Counseling (4th ed). Willey and Son, Inc.: Hoboken, New Jersey.

Psychology Today (2018) 6 Ways Your Environment Influences Addiction. Retrieved January 23, 2022,

SAMSHA (2018), Why is Addiction a Disease and Why is it Important. Retrieved January 23, 2022, from

Shatterproof (2021), | Reversing the Addiction Crisis in the U.S. retrieved January 23, 2022, from  


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