Will power and addiction

The notion that those who suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction simply lack will power has pervaded society for ages now. Those who suffered were seen as weak, immoral, and lacking the fortitude to control their own actions.

Fortunately, both science and the medical world have come to view alcoholism and addiction as a disease- and not a failure of will power or fortitude.

Here we take an honest look at the disease concept of addiction/alcoholism.

So what is the medical definition of addiction?

The American Medical Association has viewed alcoholism (and subsequently addiction) as a A persons will power in addictiondisease since 1956. Currently, the medical field uses the following definition to describe alcoholism/addiction-

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease involving brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry; it can lead to relapse, progressive development, and the potential for fatality if not treated.” (1)

So what does science say?

The New England Journal of Medicine published a review of scientific studies conducted on the notion of addiction as a brain disease in 2016. (2)

Their findings greatly help demonstrate the idea that addiction is truly a disease, and not simply a matter of one having weak will power. The following points were concluded by the review:

  • Reward circuits in the brain are desensitized, which causes the individual difficulty in feeling pleasure or gaining motivation to perform everyday activities
  • Progressively conditioned responses to drug cravings, meaning the ability to resist cravings becomes progressively worse
  • Weakening of the brain regions involved in decision-making, inhibitory control, and self-regulation, thus making chronic relapsing highly likely
True Recovery

So if will power is not the answer, what is?

Most any of us who have found long-term sobriety can attest to making firm resolutions to never drink/use again in our past. We may have even succeeded in “white-knuckling” it for periods of time. Simply making a firm resolution to quit, however, rarely suffices for those of us with alcoholism and/or addiction.

The reality is, we need to follow up our resolution with action- such as reaching out for help. While this does not come naturally to most of us, it is utterly necessary for the majority of us if we hope to achieve long-term, meaningful sobriety.

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22641960
  2. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra1511480