World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1. The World AIDS Campaign’s goal is “to ensure that governments and policy makers meet the HIV targets they set, the commitments they made, and mobilise the necessary resources for a world where people do not die of AIDS and opportunistic infections like TB. At the heart of the global commitment is non-discriminatory and non-judgmental access to adequate HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for all.” (source: http://www.worldaidscampaign.org/world-aids-day/)
This year marks the 24th World AIDS Day, first celebrated in 1988. In less than 25 years, the world has changed its views of HIV-AIDS (and you all remember those mean-spirited, shame-filled views of the 1980s) and now understands it to be: 1) a disease spread through sharing “infected bodily fluids, most commonly via sex without a condom or by sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment,” 2) a disease that can be prevented by using a condom when having sex and not sharing needles or other drug-injecting equipment, 3) a disease that can successfully be treated, allowing people to live “positively with the virus,” although there is no cure nor vaccine at this time, and 4) a disease that can be diagnosed through a blood test.
Would a World ADDICTIONS Day, with a similarly stated goal “to ensure that governments and policy makers meet the Addictions (and Substance Abuse) targets they set, the commitments they made, and mobilize the necessary resources for a world where people do not die of Addiction and opportunistic happenstances like driving while impaired car accidents. At the heart of the global commitment is non-discriminatory and non-judgmental access to adequate Addiction (and Substance Abuse) prevention, treatment, care and support for all,” do the same for the disease of addiction?
Would it change the world’s perception of addiction from the centuries old, mean-spirited, shame-filled views (and you all know those views) still in place today, to recognize addiction (whether to drugs or alcohol) for what it is: 1) a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, 2) a disease that is caused by substance abuse (which changes the chemical and structural make-up of the brain), most often in combination with one or more of the five key risk factors (genetics, social environment, mental illness, childhood trauma, and early use), 3) a disease that can successfully be treated, allowing people to live positively with the disease, although there is no cure nor vaccine at this time, and 4) a disease that can be diagnosed through brain imaging technologies (e.g., SPECT, PET, fMRI) used in conjunction with a clinical evaluation?
Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have the disease of addiction; millions die of the disease every year. Isn’t it time the world embrace a view of addiction similar to its view of HIV-AIDS?
Like HIV-AIDS, addiction is just a disease (one that affects the brain, therefore changes a person’s “thinking” and behaviors when using their substance of choice), a disease that can be diagnosed, prevented and/or successfully treated, thereby saving lives and allowing those with addiction to live productively with the disease. Like HIV-AIDS, addiction knows no cultural, religious, sexual orientation, social class, ethnic boundaries. It too is an equal opportunity disease.