Drug abuse has been happening for centuries. Yet it is only within recent decades that scientists and medical professionals have come to understand that addiction is actually a disease. It is not just any disease, but one of the brain. This comes from countless combined studies of brain scans and people’s behavior, and also animal experiments on the subject. Both types of research monitored reactions to drugs, which showed that drugs actually change the composition of the brain. In turn, the brain of a person afflicted with addiction responds differently in terms of “choice” and “free will” than does the brain of a person who is not afflicted with addiction.
To the average person, this idea may not seem like a new one. Historically, though, the idea is relatively new. In fact, there is still opposition to the idea that addiction is a disease. Some people believe even today that addiction involves only a choice among its victims, and that these people still have the freedom to choose which path their actions will take. Given that drug abuse trends are at an all time high, the research that demonstrates addiction is, in fact, a disease, seems more important than ever.
When Did We First Classify Addiction As A Disease?
Scientists and medical professionals may have long suspected that addiction stems from a change in a person’s brain, but it took quite some time for this idea to be professionally accepted. Alcoholism was first recognized as an illness in 1956 by the American Medical Association (AMA), according to an article by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Addiction followed in 1987.
This was an important recognition because addiction encompasses all sorts of addiction, from smoking to substance abuse to other sorts of addiction, such as gambling. This broad definition may be the reason that some professionals still do not believe that addiction is a disease. Whatever the case, the professional medical consensus, as endorsed by the AMA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) alike, is that addiction is a disease. Diseases typically require treatment, and successful recovery from addiction may mean critical support is necessary.
What Makes Addiction A Disease?
If addiction is a disease, it must have factors which make it qualify as one. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” When addiction occurs, these circuits experience “dysfunction” and produce “characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” In other words, addiction is a disease caused by substance abuse which causes a person’s brain to produce changes that affect a person’s health in these ways. The way a person with addiction reacts to events and situations in life, and the new behaviors gained from these, result from the disease.
Further, this disease is characterized by certain features, just as are other diseases. Some of these characteristics include:
- Inability to abstain from abuse of substance(s), or from addiction triggers or cravings
- Loss of or decreased control of behavior
- Loss of or inability to recognize the issues with this change in behavior (rationalization changes)
- Change in emotional response
In addition to these, ASAM also tells us “Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission.” Lastly, when a person has an addiction, they will exhibit a tolerance for the substance, meaning that they require a larger amount of the drug to create the same effect, and also symptoms of withdrawal should they suddenly stop using.
Why Do People Still Think Addiction Is Not A Disease?
As explained in an article on NIH MedlinePlus, media tends to “sensationalize” addiction. This negative stigma colors addiction as a problem—one that people engage in by making a choice. While it is true that people do make the initial choice to engage in substance abuse, studies of people who are addicted to substances have shown that the choices they make after that are not their own.
Stated better by NIDA, they tell us that “even if taking a drug for the first time is a ‘free’ choice, the progression of brain choices that occurs after that involves the weakening of the circuits in the prefrontal cortex and elsewhere that are necessary for exerting self-control and resisting the temptations of drug use.” Put quite simply, once abuse becomes addiction, a person may be nearly powerless to stop this compulsive abuse without help.
While overcoming addiction may be difficult to achieve, it is not impossible. However, recovery may be worlds easier with support from people who understand that it is a disease, have professional experience in treating it, and who know the weight of the stigma associated with it. For this reason, when seeking treatment, it may be helpful to complete treatment in a facility geared specifically for it.
Many things factor into treatment decisions. For example, cost should always be weighed, measured by the type of treatment center, location, and funding available for treatment. Also, there are many methods now utilized for recovery, and different facilities focus on different methods.
Finally, one may want to consider any co-occurring disorders when deciding on a plan. If someone has a substance abuse disorder and also a mental health condition, that person requires an individualized treatment plan which takes into account both diseases. In this case, true and lasting success hinges on treating both, not treating one before the other, separately.
Get Help With Treatment Today
Perhaps you have struggled with the way those around you have viewed your addiction. Pressure about quitting may have driven you to frustration. Or, maybe you have desired to quit for some time, and have known what others don’t—that you are suffering from a disease which pushes you daily to seek drugs or alcohol. Maybe you fight against this every day, and are looking for a way to break this cycle. If this sounds like you, you are not the first one to feel this way.
While many people do not get the treatment they need for their diseases, you can get help for your addiction. Contact us today at DrugRehab.org, and learn more about this disease, what you can do to find treatment, and to be connected with compassionate professionals who will help you along the way.
American Society Of Addiction Medicine — Definition of Addiction
National Council Of State Boards Of Nursing — Understanding The Disease Of Addiction
National Institute On Drug Abuse —Addiction And Free Choice
NIH MedlinePlus — The Science Of Addiction: Drugs, Brains, And Behavior