Many people think that addiction is a person’s choice or even worse, the result of their lack of self-control. This is not only incorrect but can also be very damaging to those who are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) and to their loved ones. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please continue reading.
The Disease of Addiction by Definition
Addiction is a disease. There is no question about it. It has even been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the guidebook for mental disorders used by all healthcare professionals in the United States as well as in many other parts of the world.
The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience explains that addiction is a disease. In fact, it is a mental health disorder. (SUD) meets all the criteria for an illness stipulated by the Oxford English Dictionary and Stedman’s Medical Dictionary.
Addiction and Its Effects
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic and relapsing disorder that is characterized by an incessant need to use drugs no matter the consequences. Although addiction can be different for everyone, it possesses clinically relevant symptoms, anatomical alterations, and several vulnerability factors. There are genetic, biological, and environmental components that could put someone at a higher risk of suffering from addiction.
Just like many other diseases, addiction can have harmful effects on mental and physical health. However, it can be preventable and treatable. If left untreated, it may have adverse consequences and can even lead to death. That is why it is so important to be well-informed and willing to take action against this illness.
Science of Addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse conducted research to understand the use of drugs and how people become addicted. They found that repeated use of substances can lead to brain changes in the areas that deal with self-control and urge resistance. Moreover, these brain changes can be persistent and remain for a long time after the person has recovered. This is why addiction is considered a relapsing disease.
Drugs and the Brain
The majority of drugs affect the reward pathways of the brain. This fills the brain with dopamine and causes high levels of euphoria. Drugs tell your brain that what a person is doing is pleasurable and good, even when the behaviors are harmful. This can make a person repeatedly intake substances and lead them to substance use disorders.
Once the use of drugs is continued, the brain adapts by telling the cells to no longer respond in the same way. This is how tolerance is built. The person will need more of the substance each time to obtain the desired “high.” The adaptation that the reward pathways go through makes it difficult for people to obtain pleasure from lower doses of the substance as well as the activities they used to enjoy.
Drugs Do Not Define Who You Are
Long-term use of drugs can also cause changes in other areas of the brain. These changes can affect not only pleasure and happiness but many other functions. Issues with decision-making, stress management, judgment, learning, behavior, mood, impulse control, and perception are just a few of the damaging effects that drugs can have on people’s brains and their life. Who someone is when using drugs is not the real them. Drugs affect parts of the brain that deal with how they react to and perceive the world. This is a disease and does not define the person struggling with SUD.
Illness or Choice
After all the information above, it would be irresponsible to say that addiction is a choice. SUD is clearly a chronic brain disease. Although some people may erroneously consider it a choice, and people may voluntarily choose to take these substances, no one chooses to become addicted. The stigma around addiction needs to end. As humans, we can all make good and bad decisions. Illnesses are not decisions or choices. They can happen to any of us, no matter the choices we make.
Addiction has nothing to do with a lack of morals, self-control, or willpower. As previously mentioned, the human brain will make it very difficult to quit. No one should feel guilty about something they are unable to control. Quitting and changing one’s lifestyle can take more than the intention and the will to do so. However, these two things are the very first steps in order to heal from SUD. Addiction can affect people’s well-being in many different ways, but anyone can overcome this and we’re here to help.
Healing From Addiction
Although suffering from SUD is not a choice, working towards healing can be. Accepting that you or someone you love is struggling with this debilitating disease is often one of the most difficult steps. Understanding that it is a disease and not a choice is crucial. You must not blame yourself or others. Drugs do not define who you are or decide what your future will be like. Only you can do that. To heal, you must not only accept what you are going through but be compassionate and understanding with yourself.
Understand what has led you here and what you can do to change that outcome. If you are seeking to get better, that speaks more about you than the disease you’re going through. Quitting can be difficult and take a toll on your body. That is why it’s important to have a dedicated and experienced team with you every step of the way. We are here and we believe in you.