Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

For people not suffering from addiction, it can be difficult to understand how anyone could become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many of these people believe that drug abuse and addiction are character flaws, personal choices. But science has proven that addiction is not a morality problem and those who become addicted are not weak. Still, there is great debate over a big question, that of, “Is drug addiction a disease?”

Drug Addiction is a Complex Issue

Young man with intense gaze needs to know is drug addiction a disease and what next?

The problem of drug addiction is complex. Addiction is a disease. Like many other diseases, it affects the brain. In fact, addiction to drugs changes how the brain works.

To quit using drugs, someone who is addicted needs much more than just the desire to quit. Willpower is not the answer to their problem, either. People stuck in the cycle of drug addiction need the help of trained addiction experts and therapists to become sober and remain free of drugs in recovery. With the right treatment, patients can regain productive, fulfilling lives.

Drug Addiction Definition

Treatment is necessary for long-term sobriety because the drug addiction definition is that of a relapsing brain disease, much like other relapsing diseases. Without ongoing treatment and disease coping skills, patients with diagnoses like diabetes, asthma and heart disease will only grow worse over time. But with the right treatment and coping skills, these patients can lead healthier, more productive lives. People don’t debate the need for treatment and disease management in those cases, just as they shouldn’t for drug addiction.

Another aspect of the drug addiction definition is that the disease is chronic and relapses. People who suffer from this disease are compelled to seek drugs as their brain undergoes changes in chemistry, structure, and function. The first doses of a drug are taken voluntarily. But before long, drug abuse degrades the person’s self-control and judgment, also leading to repeated drug use as an uncontrollable and strong impulse.

How Scientists Answer the Question, “Is drug addiction a disease?”

Scientists have been researching drug addiction for decades. Through this research, they have developed a clear drug addiction definition, awareness of how it occurs and what happens to the body and brain, as a result. Today, when people ask, “Is drug addiction a disease,” scientists and those who help people gain recovery are able to provide a clear explanation of how the disease of addiction takes over.

So, is drug addiction a disease? Through an expanded drug addiction definition better understanding may be gained:
Drugs are chemicals. Whether someone uses marijuana, opiates, stimulants or any other type of drug, chemicals in these drugs affect the brain. They disrupt the brain’s communications, causing nerve cells to not send, process or receive information as they typically would. Some drugs imitate natural chemicals in the brain and others cause the brain to feel rewarded by the drug being used.

Drugs that imitate natural brain chemicals include heroin and marijuana. These mimic neurotransmitters that carry messages, fooling the brain.

How Drug Addiction Affects the Brain

A cocaine addiction and a methamphetamine addiction cause one of two effects. That is, they cause the brain to release too much of its own neurotransmitters or causes these brain chemicals to continually transmit signals from neuron to neuron. Either way, these drugs cause the brain to stop communicating normally.

Almost all drugs cause flooding of dopamine into the brain’s reward system. Dopamine affects parts of the brain that manage feelings of pleasure, movement, motivation, and emotion. Pleasure is then “stolen” from normal day-to-day occurrences that should cause pleasure, to respond only to the drugs. As a result, people who abuse drugs stop feeling happiness or warmth from activities they once enjoyed and only feel good when using their substance.

When pleasure is primarily felt from drugs and not daily life, people are more inclined to repeat drug use. They will sacrifice almost everything healthy people enjoy to use drugs. This is why it can be hard for sober people to understand why drug users will continue abusing substances at all costs. These healthy people are not suffering the same brain abnormality as those with the disease of addiction.

Brain Scans Show Addiction to Be Disease

Brain scans of people who are addicted to drugs show that key areas of their brain have changed. The areas controlling judgment, learning, memory, decision-making, and behavior are altered. While these people can still behave normally, exercise healthy judgment and make sound decisions, the influence of drugs is stronger. It can take a long time for someone addicted to drugs to want to become sober.

Ask anyone in recovery, “Is drug addiction a disease?” They will tell you that yes, it is. This is because each and every day they experience the relapsing nature of drug addiction, similar to a diabetic’s relapsing through a desire to eat foods they shouldn’t. They have to use learned relapse prevention skills, coping skills and sound judgment to fight relapse on an ongoing basis.

Risk Factors for Becoming Addicted to Drugs

When many people are provided with the scientific answer to, “Is drug addiction a disease?” they follow up that question with another. The second question is usually, “Does drug addiction run in families, like other diseases?” While members of the same family tend to suffer from addiction, this is not necessarily a hereditary problem. There are other factors involved in using drugs and becoming addicted.

There is no simple way to predict who will become addicted to drugs. Influences for addiction include environment, biology, age, and other factors. The more risk factors that are true for a person, the more likely they are to abuse drugs and become addicted.

Examples of risk factors for addiction include:

  • Genes
  • Environmental influences, such as parents abusing drugs in the family home
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Mental health or presence of co-occurring conditions like depression
  • Friends
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Life quality
  • Peer pressure
  • Trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse
  • Stress
  • Unhealthy or non-existent parental involvement
  • Adolescence

Although the answer to, “Is drug addiction a disease” is affirmative, it is a disease that can be prevented. Parents, families, schools, other influences, and even the media can help prevent drug abuse that leads to addiction. When addiction does occur, it is important for the person suffering from the disease to receive the supportive treatment they need for lasting recovery.

Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, Texas Can Help You Beat the Disease of Addiction

Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, Texas offers extended programs of treatment designed to help clients overcome the root causes of their addictions. For most, this root cause is trauma. Many of the therapists of Healing Springs Ranch have been trained at the Trauma Institute and use this training and experience to help clients achieve strength in recovery.

Clients of Healing Springs Ranch enjoy the peaceful quarter horse ranch setting with its private lake, golf course, swimming pool and plenty of outdoor activities. There is plenty of acreage and activities to explore. You will receive support from other clients and staff.  You will enjoy quiet introspection, group therapies or individual counseling sessions for the ultimate in recovery treatments. Located only an hour north of downtown Dallas, Healing Springs Ranch is convenient to anyone by car from the DFW area or from one of the nearby international and regional airports.

If you or someone you love suffers from the disease of addiction, call Healing Springs Ranch at 866-656-8384 for more information. At Healing Springs Ranch you can heal from the trauma that led you to drug abuse. Addiction is a disease, but it can be treated for lifelong recovery.

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