It’s an age-old debate. Is drug addiction a disease or a choice? Some will say it’s obviously a choice to pick up a drink or a drug. Others will say alcohol and drug abuse is a disease.
One of the reasons this is such a hotly debated topic is because so many people suffer from this affliction. According to the United Nations, 35 million people around the world suffer from drug use disorders. That’s an astoundingly high number of people who are facing down a horrible ordeal.
But, here’s something that’s, perhaps, more alarming than that 35 million statistic. The UN went on to report that only one in seven of those sufferers will go on to receive treatment.
Is that because there’s such a stigma around this issue? Do people continue to assume that those faced with this affliction are weak and can just stop anytime they’re ready?
Or, is that because alcohol and drug abuse has become almost acceptable in society? You can’t turn on a TV show or attend a social gathering without alcohol being present.
It’s hard to say. But, regardless of the reason for the ever-present struggle against addiction, we’re going to put all this in its proper context. Is addiction a disease? It surely is and here are many of the reasons why.
What Is Addiction?
In its simplest terms, addiction is a strong compulsion to obtain and ingest harmful substances even though they will produce a host of unhealthy circumstances.
In more formal terms, addiction is classified as a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to some of the brain’s circuits.
Addiction is seen and treated as a disease by medical professionals because it alters – or disrupts – the normal, healthy functioning of the brain, amongst other organs.
Addiction also functions much like many other diseases. For example, it disturbs the regular functioning of a major organ (particularly, the brain).
It leads to a decreased quality of life and risk of premature death. It can also be reoccurring like other major illnesses and may require a lifetime of management.
Like other illnesses, addiction is treatable with the proper course of treatment. That course of treatment may look different for each person suffering from this disease. But, once treated and managed properly throughout the course of one’s lifetime, symptoms are likely to diminish.
The Brain and Addiction
When drugs are added to the body, they often target one chemical in particular: dopamine. Dopamine is a small but important chemical that carries signals from one brain cell to another.
In a healthy, unaltered brain, dopamine is released to signal a reward. For example, after we eat a satisfying meal or take a healthy run, dopamine sends out a signal that says, “Well done; be happy.”
But, a brain suffering from drug addiction is under siege. Drugs act like these little chemical messengers and trick the body into thinking “Well done; be happy.”
The problem is, the body is mistakenly reacting positively to a drug that is harmful to the body and, over time, it will require more and more of that drug to achieve the same message.
Perhaps worst of all, when people habitually misuse a harmful substance, the brain starts to produce less dopamine. (After all, the drugs are acting like dopamine.)
So, when someone suffering from addiction stops abusing the substance, it may be temporarily difficult to feel the release that dopamine used to provide.
Of course, the body can regulate these things over time. It just explains why the early stages of recovery are a bit of an uphill battle.
Isn’t It a Matter of Choice?
The trouble some people have with the medical definition of addiction is that it is a matter of choice to ingest that first harmful substance, be it nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs.
Doesn’t it become a matter of willpower and choice, then? The short answer is no. Underlying mental health disorders, childhood trauma, and even a family history of addiction can make some people more susceptible to this disease than others.
You can also look at it this way. Most people don’t want to ruin their health, financial stability, and relationships. So, if addiction was as easy as deciding to stop, everyone would do it and the world wouldn’t be so full of people suffering from the disease.
This is why it goes back to a disease that targets a vital organ. Once the brain becomes altered by the disease of addiction, willpower and choice can become impaired beyond a person’s ability to “just say no.”
Also, we cannot choose how our brains will react to substances. This is why people with the disease of addiction cannot control their abuse while others can stop after one glass of wine or never even consider ingesting drugs.
On a final note, there are other ailments that are easily classified as diseases that came about as a result of choice. It’s quite easy for someone to choose to overeat until they’re battling diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol. Yet, no one denies them the label of disease.
If It’s a Disease, Can One Ever Stop?
People with the disease of addiction can stop abusing drugs; it’s just more difficult for them than for someone who hasn’t become addicted.
This is why it’s not a moral dilemma – or a matter of weakness – and those suffering from addiction shouldn’t be blamed for having a disease.
The level that people suffer from this disease may vary, however. Some people will deal with addiction in high school and the early years of college. Then, as they enter the workforce, they might be able to scale back and allow their brain and body to recover.
Others, however, will go on to become chronic sufferers from this disease. In this scenario, addiction goes on to become a progressive, deteriorating disease that requires treatment, aftercare, and long-term recovery.
How Is the Disease Treated?
Actually, one of the arguments against the age-old question, “Is addiction a disease?” is the fact that some people can be cured without any treatment. People with a mild disease may recover with little to no treatment; they may be able to just stop.
Meanwhile, people with a more severe form of the disease may require intensive treatment and lifelong management to be relieved. Professional detoxification may be required as the body readjusts to a lack of harmful substances.
Treatment may be short-term or long-term, inpatient or outpatient. That is, for short- or long-term inpatient care, some people check themselves into a medical facility where professionals can monitor their detoxification process and see them through the worst of it.
A proper therapeutic community will use peer influence and clinical counseling to help patients change their attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions. Ultimately, they should be rehabilitated to the point where they’ll experience financial stability, employment, housing, and an aftercare support system.
Outpatient care requires regular check-ins with a medical professional as the brain and body readjust to life without harmful substances. This can include screening, assessment, issue-specific classes, counseling, and more.
Whether someone’s disease was mild or severe, support groups may also be a benefit to them. There are plenty of sufferers who have gone before them, successfully detoxified their bodies, and gone on to live happy and productive lives. They can pass on countless tools for survival.
There’s Hope for the Disease of Drug Addiction
Although it’s clear drug addiction is a disease, we hope you also see that it’s a treatable disease. There are numerous roads to recovery and lifelong plans in place to help people who are suffering prevent further recurrences.
Although the brain is targeted and altered by this disease, it is possible to restore it to its proper and healthy functioning. Better than that, once someone is free from this disease, they can go on to live a new life that’s even better than the one they had before their struggle with addiction.
Here at Cenikor, that’s precisely what we’re all about. Cenikor is a place for change. We help our clients achieve better health and, ultimately, better lives.
We’re committed to helping people facing down alcohol and drug addiction, as well as behavioral health issues, through a full continuum of care.
Through our admissions process, we’ll help you or your loved one determine the best level of care to meet your individual needs. We provide a variety or options for both adolescents and adults, and we’re able to accept most insurance plans.
Please feel free to contact us today through our online form, live chat, or phone number. We can be reached at 888-236-4567 Monday through Friday from 8AM to 7PM and Saturday and Sunday from 8AM to 5PM. Remember. There’s hope; there’s a solution; and we’ll help you find it.