What is an addiction? The dictionary defines it as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” According to DrugAbuse.gov, it is a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.” Those who struggle with addiction sometimes end up losing their jobs, homes, and even their lives. They may steal or do things they would never have before just in order to get the drugs or alcohol they need. What causes a person to do this? Is it a case of morality, or something physical and psychological? Despite most medical professionals agreeing that addiction is a disease, there are still some that insist that it’s a matter of choice. So which is it? Is addiction truly a disease of the brain, or is it a complex, compulsive behavior that can be managed by sheer will?
Let’s start by examining the brain. Our brains are wired to produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine as a “reward” for behavior normally associated with survival, such as eating and even exercising. The dopamine gives a feeling of pleasure, a feeling that we are programmed to crave more of, in order to ensure the survival of our species. When someone ingests a drug such as cocaine or heroin, the brain produces a flood of dopamine that we don’t get in other ways. Each time the drug is used, the dopamine cascade is initiated, training the person to crave drugs as they would crave food or anything else necessary for survival. This is why even those who have been in recovery for years can still be tempted in certain settings. The American Journal of Psychiatry published a study that found that substance abuse changes brain function and causes a person to develop one, or more, of the four roots of addiction.
The Four Roots Of Addiction
Tolerance | more of the substance needed to feel the same effect,
Dependence | a person is no longer able to function without the drug. They become physically addicted to the chemical of choice.
Dysphoria | excessive negativity; may cause a person to relapse in order to gain control of emotions
Sensitization | greater responsiveness to a drug, which is what makes people more likely to relapse if they have gone for a period of time without using.
Genetics also play a role in addiction, like other diseases. If you have a parent who struggles with addiction, you are 50% more likely to end up an addict yourself. According to a manuscript published by the US National Library of Medicine, “Addictions are a diverse set of common, complex diseases that are to some extent tied together by shared genetic and environmental etiological factors. They are frequently chronic, with a relapsing/remitting course. Genetic studies and other analyses clarifying the origins of addiction help destigmatize addiction, leading to more prompt treatment. Knowledge of genetic factors in etiology and treatment response may enable the individualization of prevention and treatment, as well as the identification of new therapeutic targets.” “Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addiction is moderate to highly heritable. Family, adoption and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that genetics account for 40-60% of a person’s chances of developing a substance abuse problem, while environment makes up the rest. If you have a genetic predisposition to addiction and you are in an unstable environment, you are much more likely to use than someone without a family history.
Law Enforcement Changing Their Tactics
Even law enforcement and some government officials have changed their stance from punishment to treatment. In 1986, while President Reagan was in office he vowed to continue to fight the war on drugs and said that his administration would “refuse to let drug users blame their behavior on others”. Now all over the country, we have lawmakers emphasizing compassion over punishment, and encouraging treatment for addiction. Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida has been public about his daughter’s struggles with drug abuse and has said that those battling addiction should not feel ashamed to seek treatment for this disease. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has also been vocal about his views on addiction and has said that people fighting addiction should be treated the same as those fighting any other disease; without stigma or humiliation.
In Gloucester Massachusetts, police chief Leonard Campanello offered help to any heroin addict who came into the police station voluntarily. His now viral Facebook post stated that “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc.) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged,” “Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery” and send them for treatment “on the spot.” Since then, more than 50 police departments in seventeen states have implemented similar programs and have partnered with more than 200 treatment centers nationwide. There are hundreds of more programs that are being planned throughout the country, even in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Disease Or Choice?
With science and government officials both seeming to agree that addiction is not a choice or a moral issue, but a chronic brain disease, why are there still so many that think otherwise? Some feel that because you can choose to get well, unlike say cancer, that addiction does not qualify as a disease. For many previous generations, drugs and alcohol were thought of as a purely moral choice, and these beliefs have been passed down through families. For those that think that addiction is not a disease, or for those that are unsure, we encourage you to do more research. Read stories of those who have lost their battles with addiction and read scientific studies, and then decide.
Contact Clearbrook For Addiction Help
For more than 40 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective and quality treatment to those afflicted with the disease of addiction. If you or a loved one is caught in the downward spiral of substance abuse, please contact our Admissions Specialists today. We have found a solution to a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body and would like to share that solution with you. All things are possible through recovery, please let us show you.