There is significant debate over addiction as a choice versus a disease. While a case can be made for either side, here we will look at the medical facts to decide the question, is addiction a disease?
Is Addiction a Disease? The Medical Community Responds
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has a long and short version of how to define addiction. A short definition per their Policy Statement is:
“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Stated briefly, ASAM says addiction is a disease.
Other agencies in the community agree with this position. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization agree addiction is uncontrollable and shows compulsive substance abuse despite negative consequences, the definition of addiction.
Is Addiction a Disease? Look at the Brain
Scientific research shows that addiction is a brain disease that develops over time. While addiction starts with voluntary drug use with prescription medication or recreational drug use, it becomes a dysfunction of the brain.
Drugs change a person’s mood, memory, perceptions, and emotional state in the short-term. Over time, the drug changes the brain’s physical structure and role, creating strong cravings for the drug. Sometimes, the brain will no longer act normally without the drug. Some people argue it’s a case of learning gone wrong. The person has taught dependence on drugs through use of drugs. While this makes sense on one level, this learned behavior is not easily unlearned and is characteristic of many diseases.
Is Addiction a Disease? Look at Similar Brain Diseases
Brain diseases are complex and show social and behavioral components, just as those struggling with addictions do too.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease affecting the frontotemporal region of the brain. Like those struggling with addictions, Dementia patient’s first show signs of disturbance in behavioral and social interactions.
Schizophrenia is another disease of the brain where more activity in some regions of the brain is demonstrated and less activity is shown in those that are active in a normal brain. These people suffer from hallucination, delusions, and paranoia. Some people struggling with addictions show the same symptoms.
Clinical depression is another brain disorder that exhibits symptoms like addiction. Those suffering clinical depression often report lack of pleasure in activities or people, significant weight loss, insomnia, trouble concentrating, feeling empty and sad, and reoccurring thoughts of suicide. These symptoms are also found in people abusing drugs.
Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder where neurons have broken down and died. These neurons regulate dopamine and without them symptoms of tremors and reduced motility will occur, just like in withdrawal from substance abuse. It is documented that certain toxins can increase onset of the disease. One such toxin is the drug meth. Patients who used amphetamines and methamphetamines are 76% more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.
Brain diseases are not simply biological in nature. They affect the behavioral and social interactions of a person. Since a person struggling with addiction is not monitored until the addiction is plain to others, who is to say the disease was not already present in the brain, waiting to be observed?
Is Addiction a Disease? Environmental Factors
Many diseases result from a person’s environment and choices, just like addiction. A person who eats too many salty foods and drinks alcohol may develop hypertension. While this could be considered a problem of food addiction, often hypertension is only treated by the medical community as a biological disease. The same can be said of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arteriosclerosis. Even some forms of cancer are also influenced by one’s diet and exercise, or lack thereof.
Many of our eating and exercise habits are learned from our environment: family, friends, and peers. And, just like addiction, many of the diseases mentioned can be reversed through learning new responses to stimuli in the environment. People struggling with heart disease learn to eat foods to heal the heart. Those struggling with addiction learn to eat foods that heal the brain. Both groups learn to include exercise to strengthen the body and release normal amounts of dopamine.
Is Addiction a Disease? Genetic Factors
It is estimated that a person’s genetics can determine a person’s vulnerability to addiction up to 60 percent. But again, a person’s environment will decide if the gene’s that affect addiction will be triggered. Other medical conditions such as mental disorders will also affect if the genes responsible for addictive behavior will be triggered. Studies seem to show that adolescents and those struggling with mental disorders are at higher risk for addictive behaviors.
Is Addiction a Disease? Does the Answer Matter?
Yes, scientific research into how drugs affect the brain is important so we can influence and change the addiction cycle. But while the world debates if addiction is a disease, many people just need to receive quality recovery care. Perhaps the time and resources spent on the debate should go towards helping those in need. Regardless of one’s position, people with addictive behaviors need help.
How to Get Help for Addiction
The first step in getting help is admitting you have a problem with substance abuse. When one see’s he or she is using a substance even when experiencing negative consequences and wishing to stop, it is time to get help.
Speak with your doctor and ask for help. Your doctor can check your symptoms and help you decide if rehab is the best choice. If you cannot speak to your doctor, call a helpline at (561)-770-6616. Addiction specialists will help you find the right detox program for your symptoms.
After detox, you will need addiction treatment to help you stay clean and sober. Cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy are a good place to start. Alternative therapies such as yoga, nutritional therapy, art and music therapy, and gentle exercise will help support your body during this transition back to healthy living.
Once rehab is complete, you will need a continuous care plan in place to help you stay sober. Support groups and alternative therapies can help strengthen one’s resolve to stay sober.
Ready to Get Help for Addiction?
While much evidence supports addiction as a brain disease, the debate of is addiction a disease will continue to rage. Don’t let the debate shame you into avoiding help. Get the help you need now by calling Northlake Recovery at (561)-770-6616. Addiction specialists are waiting to help you make the choice of sobriety. Call today!