Is Addiction a Disease?
Is addiction a disease? Yes it is, but unfortunately it is still a popular opinion that addiction is a choice rather than a chronic disease.
This adds to the considerable social stigma addicts and their friends and families face every day, which sometimes acts a barrier for those seeking addiction treatment.
How is addiction a disease?
It is absolutely true that you can’t “catch” addiction like a common cold or virus nor is it a moral failing. Addiction will always start from a decision to experiment with drugs or alcohol, however, when we look at the way addiction works, this is the only major difference between addiction and what we accept to be a disease.
While the act of using a substance is a choice, the process of becoming an addict is not.
No one chooses to develop a substance abuse disorder; addictions evolve over time, changing the brain function and even the brain structure of the user, until quitting is no longer simply a matter of will power.
Most addictive substances overstimulate the production of chemicals that occur naturally in the brain – such as dopamine, adrenalin, endorphins, serotonin – thus giving the user feelings of euphoria and heightened confidence.
Once the effects of the drugs or alcohol wear off, the user is left with a deficit of these chemicals, leading to a steep decline in well-being and subsequent cravings for more drugs to re-establish the sensation of being high and happy.
Depending on how susceptible a person is to the effects of a substance, and depending on their natural capacity to produce these chemicals, the brain will, over time, change in order to accommodate the effects of frequent drug or alcohol use.
Once an addiction has taken hold, it is bound to have negative effects on most areas of the addicts life, much like chronic diseases which lower the quality of the sufferers’ lives significantly.
Addicts are likely to experience physical changes, health problems, social problems and mental health issues as a result of their substance abuse.
Once substance abuse has moved past a person’s control, which is one of the defining characteristics of an addiction, they are going to require professional help in order to be able to break the cycle of addiction.
What difference does it make to treat addiction like a disease?
The biggest upside of recognising addiction as a disease is the instant removal of social stigma.
Addicts are often reluctant to admit their substance abuse issues to themselves or their loved ones, because they fear harsh judgement.
If we understand addiction as a chronic disease, seeking help becomes less daunting and this empowers addicts to take steps towards recovery.
Addiction is not just a physical condition, it is also heavily impacting the users’ mental health, which is why holistic treatments for substance abuse disorders are required for successful treatment.
Addicts beginning the recovery process require not just medical supervision in order to manage their physical withdrawal symptoms, they also need in-depth therapy and mental-health support in order to beat their cravings, break destructive behaviour patterns and understand the triggers that might lead to relapse.
Can addiction be “cured”?
Addiction, much like chronic disease, can not be cured in the traditional sense, however a successful addiction treatment program will address not only the physical, but the emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual aspects of recovery. This helps the recovered addict manage their addictive behaviours and prevent relapse.
Recovery is not possible until a person can recognise the triggers for their addictive behaviour. Identifying and eliminating or minimising triggers is an important step in the journey of recovery.
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