M J Clarke, thanks for the well thought out response. Much appreciated. Presuming that I understand the argument you’re making, that addiction is just a normal human behavior and shouldn’t be thought of as a disease (yes?), sure, that’s possible, too. However, one can be a heavy drinker without being an alcoholic.
Whether you want to refer to addiction as a “disease” or “a certain configuration of certain genes,” there is clear evidence that there is a subset of the general population who are more prone to addiction (or, addictive-like behaviors, if you prefer). This is, I believe, the heart of the addiction-disease (what the DSM-IV calls SAD, Substance Abuse Disorder); a genetic configuration that has some people be more likely to be addicts than others. Does that make us different? Well, as with a lot of things in genetics, yes and no.
As I mention in the article, addiction is complex, comprised of three components; social, spiritual, and physiological. Due to epigenetics the disease (or syndrome, or SAD, if you prefer), is responsive to its environment.
The outcome of that is that some people can be addicted to something due to environmental factors and, when the environment changes, can just stop doing it. No one can say for sure, of course, and I’m betting that those people don’t have the same genetic configuration of those who start abusing a substance then can’t stop, no matter what else changes.
Yes, there are lots of examples — like your Vietnam one — of people who used then stopped. There are also lots of examples of people who used then couldn’t stop…ever. Want to compare data? See which pool is most populated?
I also believe, as you do, that addiction falls into the “normal” human behavior category. So does psychopathy, depression, and a host of other strange human behaviors.
Genetics provides us an enormously broad canvas on which to paint “normal.” We can be alike and dissimilar at the same time.
So, call it a disease, a syndrome, a configuration of genes, whatever you like. By your saying “addicted individuals, and drug users in general, are no different from the rest of humanity” you’re tacitly admitting that genetics plays a part in addiction, just as they do with all of the rest of us.
So, I think we agree.