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There is a big problem when addiction to substances (e.g. cigarettes, booze, drugs) and behaviors (e.g. eating, gambling, sex) are present. Presently, all these are affecting 40% of the population in the Western countries. It is controversial to define what addiction really is with everything being politicized increasingly.

  • Addiction has three definitional categories: a disease, a matter of choice, and a form of self-medication.
  • Each of these three has unique implications for treatment and can overlap, from the level of government policy to those available options for patients.

Addiction is a brain disease, as endorsed by a dominant party line in the U.S. and Canada

With the definition provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Addiction is defined as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” The definition of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) regarding addiction was stated around mid-1990’s. According to them, addiction is a brain disease due to its capacity tremendously change the brain structure and function.

To support the claim, the continuous use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol well, in fact, do damages. It changes the brain’s physiologic functioning including its circuitry involved in memory, anticipation, and pleasure. There is also an assumption from experts that addiction is a form of a learning process. Users are able to discover the efficacy of the substance in their reaction to activities like gambling. Drugs help them elevate their mood and form a strong attachment to it because of the continuous cravings it produces. Due to synaptic connections, addiction strengthens to form the association internally.

Addiction is definitely not the same with a few other medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis

Medical conditions and their symptoms are way beyond the control of a patient. While addiction and the changes it brings to the brain block the factors that sustain self-control for people, its habit in the first place is a decision of the person himself/herself.

No minimum requirement of reinforcement or punishment can affect a medical condition. It is not possible for a patient diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease to be cured of dementia by just bribing him/her or by imposing punishment on them.

The above scenario is absolutely not the same with addiction. The addicted individuals can respond to the consequences and rewards given to them. The changes in the brain when they do drugs, for some scientists, do not necessarily mean a brain disease. Therefore, for these people, the definition that addiction is a brain disease is relative and misleading.

In a choice model, people tend to regulate mood or psychological discomfort by looking for something that will make them feel good immediately

A full-blown addiction is the success of feel-good immediate decisions, just to escape from the problems such as family deterioration, job loss, health, and financial matters. People want an immediate relief from the problems they are facing and therefore are more likely to choose addictive drugs. They do not choose to self-destruct but to have immediate comfort from the harsh reality.

From the typical trajectory, people receive a reward at the start of the episode of addiction, but later on will receive failures from different aspects of the user’s life such as job loss, excessive spending of money, and disappointed loved ones. Even though they know the failures, they will still use drugs just to cover it all up, acting as a slave to psychological pain, withdrawal symptoms, and intense cravings.

There are medications for addiction to suppress the cravings and the severity of withdrawal symptoms. However, motivation is the key to making changes possible.

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