4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

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4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

Addiction is considered a disease because it causes physical brain changes

Thanks to scientific research in the field of neuroscience and addiction, there is more understanding now than ever before on the effects that drugs place on their abusers. While a surface level examination of addiction may come across with the assumption that addicts should simply stop using the substance that is harming them, we now know better than to expect rapid changes out of sheer will power.

It has been proven time and again that there is a physical change that actually compels a cycle detrimental to the health of the body and is difficult to break without professional treatment. For this reason, addiction has been officially termed and recognized by institutions such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a disease.[1] There are other factors which link addiction to other conditions which are widely known as diseases and that have led others to come to this same conclusion.

The Case Against the Terminology

Not all agree. Mark Lewis, a popular neuroscientist who is also famous for his authorship of two books dealing with addiction from the perspective of his own personal experience with narcotics says the following. “The whole idea that addiction is a disease never made sense to me either personally, scientifically, nor through my discourse with other people who are addicted.”[2] He’s not the only one with these sentiments. There has been much controversy regarding this topic, and other critics of the medical label for addiction also promote the idea that giving the title “disease” to addiction is dangerous as it involves choice and may stop addicts from recognizing their personal responsibility for their situation.

More Than Brain Changes­—How Addiction and Disease Are the Same

True, addiction may not come as shocking news like receiving the notice from the doctor that you have cancer when you had no idea that you were carrying the disease inside of you. Rather, it begins with a choice. Users put themselves at risk when they choose to partake of drugs for the first time, or in the case of prescription drugs, when they begin to abuse them by taking medications other than as directed.

However, it has been pointed out that there are other conditions that we know to be disease that also start with choice.[3] For example, diabetes patients and coronary artery disease patients often acquire their disease as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices that they know are likely to lead to their detriment. That makes each condition no less of a disease. Tobacco use leads to lung cancer. Tobacco use also leads to addiction.

Indeed, a disease is marked not by what choices led to it but by the changes that happen to the body as an effect of those choices. As mentioned, choices to abuse drugs physically alter the brain. How? When the brain releases certain pleasurable chemicals after a person engages in the fulfillment of some natural desire or need, one feels satisfied. This pleasure leads to the desire to participate in such an activity again.

Substances that are commonly abused include chemicals that mimic the ones that the brain would naturally produce. The effect is that the brain becomes altered in a dysfunction of regulatory neurotransmitters and comes to have a strong craving to again participate in consumption of the substance even though no real satisfaction is acquired. Thus although choices are involved in the development of addiction, we can see that addiction is not simply a choice of yes or no.

Just as the risk of other diseases is often increased by genetics, so is addiction. That means that for some people who start taking drugs, even out by prescription, it is just going to be much more difficult to quit. It is similar to how people with a family history of diabetes may need to stay away from certain dietary elements whereas others with strong combative genes have no health struggle with the same food products.

The converse is also true—it may be harder for some people to become addicted in rare cases where genetic programming causes adverse effects rather than pleasure. Along these lines the University of Utah Health Sciences team shows us that “Alcoholism is rare in people with two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation.”[4]

Disease Must Be Treated—Following the Lines of Addiction Help

In an interview where he admits that addiction does, in fact, alter brain function to such an extent that impulse changes to compulsion and become so strongly entrenched that he would actually be comfortable referring to it as a disorder, he states his real reason for arguing the term disease. He states, “The best way to combat addiction is through setting different goals for yourself and setting your own goals.”

All diseases require good compliance with medical professionals in treatment by change of habits, lifestyle or environment. Addiction is not different. Although addiction is a disease; no one is born an addict. There is a personal responsibility to undertake in treatment of disease, and it is possible to address it with great outcomes. Do you have additional addiction questions or concerns? Call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline now to start a new life of sobriety.

[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction. The Guardian, Melissa Davey. Marc Lewis: The neuroscientist who believes addiction is not a disease, Published: 8/30/15

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/aug/30/marc-lewis-the-neuroscientist-who-believes-addiction-is-not-a-disease. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. Revised November 2012

[3] https://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih2/addiction/guide/lesson5-1.html National Institutes of Health, Drug Addiction Is a Disease- So What Do We Do about It? Published: March 2010

[4] http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/genes/. University of Utah.

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