Most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, define addiction as a disease. Just like cancer or diabetes, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental, and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that someone will develop addiction.
Substance Abuse and the Brain
We feel pleasure when basic needs such as hunger and thirst are satisfied. This is due to the release of dopamine in the brain, which is the chemical associated with rewards. Most addictive substances cause the brain to release high levels of dopamine. The continued release of dopamine over time causes changes in our brain systems. When these changes occur, a person may need to take the substance just to feel normal. These changes in the brain can remain for a long time, even after one stops using substances. Researchers believe that these changes may leave people with addiction vulnerable to physical and environmental cues that they associate with substance use, also known as triggers, which can increase their risk of relapse.
Addiction – A Chronic Disease
What is a chronic disease? It is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but can’t be cured. Approximately 25-50% of people who have a substance abuse problem also appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. For such people, addiction is a progressive, relapsing disease that requires intensive treatments and continuing aftercare to manage their recovery. However there is good news. Even the most severe, chronic form of the disorder can be manageable and reversible, usually with long term treatment and continued monitoring and support for recovery.
When someone decides to start using substances, they are making a choice. Later, when their brain has been changed due to addiction, their decision making becomes impaired. The very essence of addiction is that the person has no control over their substance use. This is why it is said that people with addiction should not be blamed for being addicted.
However, there is another school of thought that says addiction is not a disease, and that it cannot be a disease, because it is caused by a person’s choice to use drugs. It is important to understand that while the initial use might be by choice, subsequent uses may not be since the brain has been changed by addiction.
Others argue against addiction being a disease because some people with addiction can get better without treatment. Only those who have a mild substance use disorder are able to recover with little or no treatment, but not usually those who have a serious form of addiction. The fact is, we don’t really understand why some people can quit an addiction without treatment and why others can’t. This is why treatment is always recommended for people who suffer from addiction and should be sought by families concerned for their addicted loved one’s well being and long term sobriety.
Serenity Oaks Wellness is a 5-week long treatment program where clients regain their ability to live and restore their confidence in living without drugs and alcohol. We seek to adorn each client with the tools and foundation they need for living a beautiful life of recovery. Call us today for information: 855.652.2683