Is Addiction a Disease?

Is Addiction a Disease?
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Is addiction a disease or a lifestyle choice? Ask the mother who lost her 19-year-old son to drugs. He was the laughing, family prankster who earned a full-ride college scholarship as a solid student and star second baseman.

The moody, angry dropout who had survived overdoses only to be caught breaking into cars was not the son she had raised. What she knew, like the families and friends of the more than 15,000 Indiana residents who have died as a result of an overdose since 1999, is that addiction is not a life anyone would choose.

The majority of medical professionals agree. Alcoholism was classified as a disease by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1956, and addiction was classified as a disease in 1987.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) joined the AMA in 2011, defining addiction as a chronic brain disorder rather than a behavior problem or the result of poor choices.

Top addiction authorities, addiction medicine doctors, neuroscientists, and experts from the National Institute on Drug Abuse all agree that addiction is a disease. Experts are still learning about how and why the disease develops, as they are with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This blog post will explain addiction and how IU Health’s addiction treatment can help those in need.

What is Addiction?

Addiction to alcohol or drugs, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic brain disease that can affect anyone. Severe substance use disorder occurs when substance use becomes an uncontrollable habit that negatively impacts your daily life, manifesting as difficulties at work or school, conflicts with relationships, and legal or financial issues.

Addiction Changes the Brain

Addiction alters the structure of the brain, rewiring it. Drugs and alcohol disrupt the communication system of your brain, interfering with how nerve cells send, receive, and process information.

When we do something we enjoy, such as eating a piece of our favorite pie, hanging out with friends, or going for a run, the brain’s reward system is activated. That reward comes in the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is released when drugs or alcohol are consumed.

Addiction Causes the Brain to Ask for More

Dopamine makes us feel good and want to keep doing what we’re doing. It also trains the brain to mimic the behavior. Cues activate the reward system, fuel cravings, and establish a habit loop. The aroma of a pie baking can make you salivate with excitement. Addiction also fuels habits, such as wanting a cigarette with your coffee every morning or wanting a hit when you drive past the house where you used to do drugs.

When you take a drug, your brain produces far more dopamine than it does when you eat your favorite pie. To restore normal dopamine levels, your brain overreacts and reduces dopamine production.

Your body produces less dopamine as you continue to use drugs. Things that used to make you happy, such as pie, friends, and even drugs, no longer do. When you are addicted, you need more and more drugs to feel normal.

An Addicted Brain Impacts Behavior

Addiction alters the areas of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and controlling behavior, according to research. These changes can result in a good student failing a class, a wife lying about draining the family savings account, or an overdose in a grocery parking lot while children sit in their car seats.

Willpower changes as a result of substance abuse. When you try to stop using drugs or alcohol, your brain tries to protect you from the agony and severity of withdrawal symptoms. Addiction fuels your brain’s response to do anything to stop the cravings and discomfort. That can include drinking or using drugs to overcome the desire to “just say no.”

Addiction is a disease with complex risk factors

Addiction makes no distinctions. Addiction affects people from all walks of life, regardless of their age, race, gender, or income. There is no single factor that can predict your risk of developing a substance use disorder. However, researchers agree that a combination of factors can increase your risk.

Risk factors for drug or alcohol addiction:

Yes, if addiction runs in your family, you have a 60% chance of becoming addicted, according to the National Institute on Drug Addiction. Growing up in a home with adults who use drugs is similar to growing up in a home where fried foods, soda, and sugary sweets increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Addiction is a chronic disease

A disease is a condition that changes the way an organ functions. Chronic disease is treatable and manageable, but it cannot be cured. Addiction is a chronic brain disease, just as diabetes is a chronic pancreatic disease and heart disease is a heart disease.

Getting Treatment for Addiction is a Choice

Everyone makes a decision about using drugs or drinking for the first time. However, you have no control over how your brain reacts. Willpower and shaming will not reverse brain changes and cure addiction. There is no cure, but treatment helps you manage and successfully live with the disease.

To control their disease, just as someone with diabetes or heart disease must choose to exercise and eat a healthy diet, someone with addiction must choose treatment. That decision could be influenced by a court order or a family ultimatum. However, many people make their own decisions, preferring a life free of addiction and the problems that come with it over drugs.

Scientists are baffled as to why some people can successfully quit using drugs on their own while others cannot. Most people require intervention, such as inpatient substance abuse treatment, behavioral therapy, and medications to control cravings and encourage the brain to adapt to functioning without drugs.

Addiction relapses are a reality, but not a failure

Getting sober is difficult. It is also important to stay on track. That is the nature of having a chronic illness. Managing brain changes and learning how to change deeply ingrained behaviors are required for success. Then comes the most difficult part for many people: committing to managing new behaviors for the rest of your life.

It is sometimes too much. Relapses happen and can happen frequently. They are not a sign of treatment failure, but rather a signal to get back on track. This can include modifying or changing treatment.

H2: Find hope and help for drug addiction in Newport Beach

We help adults overcome addiction through evidence-based, medically supervised treatment in Orange County, California. See how we align caring professionalism with a holistic recovery approach. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, call us today to speak to a professional about treatment.