Substance abuse and addiction have become a social problem that afflicts millions of individuals and disrupts the lives of their families and friends. Just one example reveals the extent of the problem: in the United States each year, more women and men die of smoking related lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined (Kola & Kruszynski, 2010). In addition to the personal impact of so much illness and early death, there are dire social costs: huge expenses for medical and social services; millions of hours lost in the workplace; elevated rates of crime associated with illicit drugs; and scores of children who are damaged by their parents’ substance abuse behavior (Lee, 2010). This paper will look at the different theories used in understanding drug abuse and addiction as well as how it can be prevented and treated.
Theories (models) in understanding substance abuse and addiction: older versus newer
Any comprehensive theory (model) of substance abuse has to answer several difficult questions: What environmental and social factors in an individual’s life cause them to start abusing a drug? What factors cause them to continue? What physiological mechanisms make a drug rewarding? What is addiction, behaviorally and physiologically, and why is it so hard to quit? These questions can be answered in the major theories (models) that are described below using an integrative approach that addresses the problem of substance abuse and addiction as an urgent but elusive goal (Kauffman & Poulin, 1996).
The moral model: The earliest approach to explaining substance abuse was to simply blame the drug abuser for a lack of moral character or a lack of self-control. Explanations of this sort often had a religious character and held that only divine help would free an individual from the addiction. Applications based on the moral model were effective for many abusers. For instance, the temperance movement in the U.S., which began in the 1830’s, was estimated to have cut per capita consumption of alcohol to approximately one-third its level in the period from 1802 to 1818. However, the “Just Say No” campaign championed by former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s did not appear to significantly reduce drug abuse and addiction (Padgett, 2010).
The disease model: This theory states that an individual who abuses drugs requires medical treatment rather than moral punishment or exhortation. This theory also justifies spending money to research substance abuse in the same way that money is spent to research other diseases. However, usually the term disease is reserved for a state in which we can identify an abnormal biochemical or physical condition. No abnormal biochemical or physical condition has been found in the case of substance addiction, although mounting evidence suggests that some individuals are genetically predisposed to addiction more so than others. Nevertheless, this theory continues to appeal...