Is Addiction a Disease?
Addiction is a complex condition, which manifests itself in compulsive substance use or behavior in spite of known, harmful consequences. People battling addiction become so intensely focused on using, it takes control, causing problems in many if not all areas of life.
Does that sound familiar? If you or someone you love is struggling, don’t hesitate. Get help. To speak confidentially with a certified counselor now, call (888) 837-6577.
Is Addiction a Disease?
Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association. Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risks factors may also impact the likelihood of an individual developing addiction.
The consequences of untreated addiction can include the onset of other physical and mental health disorders. Left untreated over time, your addiction can become more severe, disabling and perhaps even life threatening.
How Addiction Changes the Brain
We all feel pleasure when basic urges such as hunger, thirst or sexual intimacy are satisfied. In most cases, these feelings of pleasure are the result of certain chemicals being released in our brains. Most addictive substances cause the brain to release high levels of these same chemicals associated with pleasure or reward.
With continued use, the release of these chemicals over time causes changes in your brain. As these changes occur, you develop a growing need for “a fix,” experiencing insatiable desires or cravings for the addictive substance. An addict will increase the substance use in spite of harmful and, in some cases, deadly consequences.
If you’re dealing with an addiction, you aren’t thinking clearly. And with every use it gets harder and harder to stop. Brain imaging has shown these brain changes, and how they’ll grow to impair your judgment, decision making, memory and behavior.
These brain chemistry changes and resulting behaviors can become so powerful as to remain, even after you stop using the substance—a condition known as withdrawal.
But Using is a Choice, Right?
Some people deny addiction is a disease because it begins with an individual’s choice to use drugs, alcohol or whatever it is they’ve become addicted to using.
While the first use or early stage usage may begin by choice, once the brain chemistry has been impacted by an addiction, an addict loses control of their behavior. They’ve pretty much lost the ability to choose—to just say no.
Addiction starts with a choice.
No one sets out to be an addict. No one thinks, “Gee, I believe I’ll experiment with this substance, and hope that my use of it intensifies to the point where I cannot stop, and then it will ruin my life.”
But addiction does begin with a choice, either to experiment or to utilize a substance to try to escape or cope with something. That initial choice can escalate to addiction. Consider the trajectory—
- EXPERIMENTAL USE: trying substance once or twice.
- RECREATIONAL USE: using a substance socially, only with friends or at a party
- CIRCUMSTANTIAL USE: using a substance to escape or avoid personal problems or life circumstances OR using a substance to get through a challenging situation (taking caffeine-laced pills to stay awake to study for exams, for instance).
- INTENSIFIED USE: increasing over a long period of time. This describes the regular user who experiences ongoing symptoms because of their drug use (physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual).
- COMPULSIVE USE: True addicts cannot voluntarily give up their substance abuse. They can no longer choose not to use and suffer significant life and health issues as result of their addiction.
Look at those last two steps—intensified and compulsive. At some point in the trajectory, addiction is no longer simply a matter of choice. The decisions we make in life affect our brain chemistry. A choice to use a substance, and then the repeated use of that substance, impairs our minds. Chemicals in our brain begin impact us physically. All of it impacts us spiritually. It’s a snowball effect.
Choice escalated to include physical, biological, and spiritual components. Physical, biological and spiritual—it’s a disease. And you see it in the symptoms—and the impact addiction has on all areas of an addict’s life.
Both/And—Choice/Disease. It needs to be treated accordingly.
Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Factors which contributed to the addiction will need to be confronted in treatment. Elements of the addiction—physical, psychological, and spiritual—need to be addressed.
At Honey Lake Clinic, our unique treatment programs specifically and deeply address all three spheres—spirit, mind, and body—offering each individual his or her greatest chance at recovery, wholeness and transformative growth.
At Honey Lake, we’re committed to providing you with compassionate care and the necessary tools to release addiction’s grip on your life. We’re here for you.
Our faith-informed model, experienced staff, licensed professional caregivers, individualized treatment, all in a beautiful and tranquil 1300-acre lakeside setting—what are you waiting for? Make the call. Regain control of your life today.