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4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

For years drug addiction has been stigmatized through media and entertainment as a habit of choice rather than what it really is, a treatable disease. Movies and television shows may still stigmatize drug use but the reality of addiction as a disease is accepted by virtually every medical professional working in the field of brain disease and addiction.

Addiction differs from other common medical diseases such as cancer in that it does not result from mutated cells in the body. Addiction is caused by typically temporary changes in brain functioning that can be reversed through treatment. Addiction also begins with an initial choice to abuse drugs where cancer development may come with risk factors but there is no choice involved. However, addiction is classified as a disease for various proven reasons that are similar to other diseases.

Addiction Alters the Brain

4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

Drug addiction changes the structure of the brain and how it functions on a daily basis

The overall reason that medical professionals have classified addiction as a disease is that drug addiction changes the structure of the brain and how it functions on a daily basis. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 1 defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” When people become addicted to a substance their brain chemistry is significantly altered causing the “reward center” of the brain to be overstimulated. As the chemical compounds of certain substances stimulate the brain resulting in the “high” that drug users feel, the brain becomes dependent on these substances. The brain essentially teaches itself to repeatedly crave drugs again once their effects fade.

NIDA2 explains that the chemicals found in drugs interfere with how the brain sends, receives, and processes information within the brain. This occurrence is where the common term “hijacking the brain” comes from. The chemicals in drugs imitate the naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain and change the information being sent. The chemicals can block certain messages from being processed and they can overstimulate certain areas causing people to feel high. The drugs take over the brain and begin to negatively affect areas of the brain responsible for movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. These affected areas all work together to reinforce the newly created drive to compulsively seek out further substance abuse.

Addiction Causes Loss of Control

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) 3 explains that addiction is characterized by the loss of control over behavior and an inability to consistently remain abstinent from drugs. The loss of control present in drug addiction is reinforced by the fact that addicts continue to take drugs despite all of the negative consequences associated with their drug use. Addicts can be aware when they lose all financial stability, credibility with others, relationships, home, and employment and yet they continue to abuse drugs. Addicts can be aware of the negative consequences that are directly caused by their addiction but they simply are unable to stop using drugs. This is similar to other mental health diseases such as schizophrenia where people cannot control what they hear or see despite negative consequences of responding to the stimuli.

Addiction Produces Relapse and Remission

Much like other diseases, addiction can cause people to experience relapse and remission. An addict can complete a professional treatment program and be in remission from addiction and suddenly experience a relapse. An addict in recovery from addiction can be in remission because the cravings and ability to relapse is still present but the physical and mental discomforts associated with addiction are diminished. Relapse also does not necessarily mean that addiction starts all over, instead the recovering addict can re-enter treatment with some adjustments to the treatment plan and get right back into recovery.

Addiction Is Curable Through Treatment

Addiction is considered a disease because it can be cured through professional treatment. The changes to the brain or body that addiction has caused a person can typically be reversed through treatment and long-term abstinence from drug use. The abnormal brain functioning cause by substance abuse can go back to a state of normality over time and the cravings for drugs can be diminished and controlled. The physical changes an addict may experience from addiction such as extreme weight loss and muscle loss can also be reversed through healthy eating and exercise.

The likelihood of a person becoming addicted to a substance is affected by other factors such as genetics, environment, mental health, and developmental stage. The genes that people are born with in combination with the environment they grow up in account for about half of their vulnerability toward developing an addiction after trying a substance. A person with a genetic predisposition who grew up in an environment surrounded by drugs and alcohol may try an alcoholic beverage for the first time and immediately begin down a road of addiction and alcoholism. Another person with no genetic predisposition or environmental influences may try an alcoholic beverage for the first time and be able to control his consumption for the rest of his life without any problems. People with mental health problems or who are at a younger age where their brains have not fully developed are also at greater risk of developing addiction.

Need Help Finding Professional Treatment for Addiction?

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and needs help finding treatment, please call our toll-free number now. Our admissions coordinators are standing by 24 hours a day in order to help you find a treatment program that will work for you. Don’t let addiction hold you back any longer. Call us today.