Debunking the Myth: Why Addiction and Obesity Aren’t Diseases

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Conventional views categorize both addiction and obesity as diseases. While medical classification can facilitate treatment and support, providing a structured way to navigate the healthcare system, this perspective may be fundamentally flawed.

Obesity, like addiction, should not be viewed merely as a disease but rather as a pathological over-learning of behaviors. A true disease implies a state where the brain cannot return to normal functioning with the cessation of certain behaviors. Yet, research has repeatedly demonstrated the brain’s neuroplasticity and its ability to adapt to new behaviors. There has never been a study showing a gene responsible for addiction or obesity. This is because humans have the ability to choose behaviors that either encourage or discourage addiction and obesity.

The Vietnam War heroin study supports this view. During the Vietnam War, a significant number of American soldiers used heroin. It was feared they would return home as addicts, but studies revealed that 95% of those who used heroin in Vietnam did not continue its use once they returned to their normal environments in the U.S. This indicates that the context and environment play a critical role in addiction. The soldiers’ ability to stop using heroin upon returning home highlights the idea that addiction is not a permanent disease but a behavior influenced by situational factors, which can be changed through environmental and behavioral modifications. For more information, you can check the detailed study here.

If you aren’t savvy with scientific literature, I’d recommend looking into The Freedom Model for Addictions as they aggregate the literature to show addiction isn’t a disease. Beliefs predicate actions always, and this applies to any pathological behavior.

In both cases of addiction and obesity, individuals are engaging in maladaptive behaviors. The act of using substances or overeating triggers changes in brain chemistry similar to those experienced when falling in love, having sex, or achieving a goal. The same habit circuits form in all these conditions and can be changed in all of them.

Labeling addiction and obesity as diseases does little more than victimize and stigmatize the individuals affected. This perspective burdens the medical system and is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of learning disorders. By classifying these behaviors as diseases, we hinder progress in helping individuals overcome these maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Instead of offering a path to a healthier life, this labeling creates a fixed mindset, where individuals see their condition as inevitable and permanent. This belief can lead to feelings of helplessness and reduce their motivation to adopt healthier behaviors. To truly help individuals struggling with addiction and obesity, we need to shift towards a flexible mindset that recognizes the brain’s ability to change and adapt through neuroplasticity.

A flexible mindset empowers individuals to believe they can modify their behaviors and improve their lives through effort and perseverance. It encourages a proactive approach to overcoming challenges, fostering resilience and personal growth. By focusing on the underlying behavioral patterns and psychological triggers, we can develop new, healthier habits and coping mechanisms. This approach provides a more accurate understanding of these conditions and offers a clear pathway to recovery within the individual’s control.

In the context of addiction, for example, a flexible mindset would emphasize understanding the triggers that lead to substance use and developing healthier coping mechanisms. Similarly, in the case of obesity, recognizing the factors that contribute to overeating and making incremental changes to diet and lifestyle can lead to sustainable weight loss and improved health.

By fostering an environment that encourages growth, health, and overall well-being, we can empower individuals to take control of their health and happiness. This shift from a fixed to a flexible mindset is crucial for breaking free from the limitations imposed by the outdated view of addiction and obesity as diseases.

The Biology of Desire & Unbroken Brain are excellent books on this topic:⁣

Watch the accompanying video here.

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