Is Addiction Truly a Disease?

Finding the courage to get help battling addiction is difficult, especially when the addict and those around him fail to see addiction as a disease. Because many addicts made a choice at some point to drink alcohol or try a drug, people often view addiction as a choice or lack of morality and willpower. This is not the case, however. Addiction is considered a disease for several reasons. Understanding them can help both an addict and his or her loved ones come to a better understanding of addiction. These are the reasons addiction is considered to be a disease.

Biology

Studies of addiction have shown that there is a 40 to 60 percent chance that an individual may be susceptible to addiction based on genetics. Those with addicts in their family tree are more likely to become addicts themselves and are likely to become addicted to a given substance more quickly than others. Mental illness also increases the likelihood of addiction as it alters the way the brain functions.

The Brain is Hardwired for Addiction

The human brain has evolved in a way that inadvertently invites addiction. When the body does something that feels good, like eating, exercising or having sex, the brain releases dopamine to encourage the behavior. These activities are necessary for survival, so the brain rewards the body for them with a hit of dopamine and positive feelings. Drugs and alcohol can overstimulate the brain, causing it to bathe itself in a sea of excess dopamine. This makes the person feel so good that they want to repeat the experience. As drug usage continues, the brain must get used to functioning with an excess of dopamine and forgets how to work without it. Over time, drug use stops affecting only the brain’s pleasure center and begins affecting other chemicals. The result is changes in all of the following:

  • Learning
  • Judgement
  • Decision-making
  • Stress levels
  • Memory
  • Behavior

Relapse Cycles

Many diseases are manageable and treatable but not curable. In this way too, addiction is like a disease. Although addictions can be overcome and beaten, staying sober requires lifelong vigilance. Once the chemistry of the brain is altered by addiction, relapse is always possible. The body may continue to crave and desire drugs and alcohol even though an individual has not been using them. This pattern is similar to other diseases that sometimes go into remission but can become active again later.

When understood as a disease, it’s east to see why addiction requires professional treatment. No one expects a diabetic or cancer patient to get well on their own, and the same should be true of those suffering from addiction. If you or someone you love is battling this disease, get help today by calling 800-737-0933. The path to freedom from addiction starts with a simple phone call.