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Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

It’s the plague that has rained down on many lives. Addiction has affected thousands of people and continues to affect more. It doesn’t stop with the ones afflicted by it. Addiction can also have an impact on the lives of the victim’s loved ones, and more. Crimes all across the world have been reported to be linked with addiction as well.

With a condition as complicated as this, there are plenty of controversies and misconceptions that go around about it. One common question that many wonders: is it a disease or a choice?

A disease is defined as a disorder or dysfunction in a human, animal, or plant. It can be something that affects the mind or the body. Considering the symptoms of addiction, it can be called a disease. But many wonder if addiction itself is the disease. Can those afflicted by addiction simply choose to stop?

That’s where the problem is. Addiction, or specifically drug addiction, can be stopped. But the process of stopping completely is as difficult as battling another disease. Depending on the severity of the addiction, quitting without professional help can be uncomfortable or even dangerous.

How is Drug Addiction a Disease?

Drug addiction is when an individual becomes dependent on a drug or alcohol. This dependency forces the victim to believe that they cannot function without the drug or alcoholic beverage. But, what makes this different from not being able to focus while studying without your favorite tunes? Or being unable to start the day properly without a cup of coffee?

To put simply, the difference is in our bodies. While many of us love to stick to a routine or habit, drug addiction is different. This is because the addiction is caused by how the abused drug changes our body and brain.

With modern medicine, it’s nearly unavoidable for us to take in drugs. We use many kinds of drugs to adjust something in our body. It may be to relieve us from pain or simply to add some vitamins in our system. While countless drugs in the market are targeted to benefit us and our health, many of them have side effects. Few of these side effects can cause the addiction.

To explain more accurately, let’s use morphine as an example. Morphine is used to treat severe pain. This is used in hospitals for those undergoing painful treatments or recovering from major surgeries. Morphine is used under strict observation of a medical professional. This is because it can cause many side effects if used improperly. One of these side effects is that it’s highly addictive.

One of the morphine’s effects is triggering the euphoric or pleasurable sensations in our brain. We, or our brain, is programmed to remember what gives us pleasure and seek to repeat it. This is how addiction starts. When a person becomes addicted on morphine, they would seek to use or abuse it. This can train the brain into thinking that morphine is a good thing. Gradually, the brain would become dependent on it. It will no longer stimulate its pleasure sectors because it has gotten used to morphine to do the trick.

In short, the victim will not be able to naturally feel pleasure without the drugs that they’re addicted to.

This isn’t limited to morphine or other pain-relieving drugs. Many drugs have effects that people want. It can be pleasure, a sense of alertness, tension-relief like downers, or an escape like in a form of hallucinations. During drug addiction, victims tend to abuse the product. In turn, their bodies become dependent on their effects that it no longer functions the way it naturally would.

But with abusing drugs, it causes more side effects other than addiction. These side effects can be dangerous to our health. Many can cause liver damage, irregular blood pressure, nausea, and lethargy.

Is It a Brain Disease?

All the things we feel is triggered by our nervous system. This includes our pain, pleasure, hunger, mood, and energy. Our nervous system triggers these by sending and receiving signals through our neurons. Neurons are in our nerves which can be found all over our bodies. Neurons are the way the brain sends and receives messages to every part of our body. The messages that they send and receive are called neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that have different effects on the brain and body. These neurotransmitters are responsible for making us feel different conditions that the brain and body can process.

Many drugs mimic or stimulate neurotransmitters that affect our brain and body. But when the brain is flooded with the effects of neurotransmitters, it commands the body to stop producing it. This is how the brain is trained into being dependent on the drugs.

This is, in a way, the brain’s way to protect itself. It can only process a limited amount of chemicals through the neurons. When it constantly gets flooded with these chemicals from the drugs, it has to reprogram the body to maintain balance. It shuts down the process of the body that naturally produces this chemical to do this.

With this information, drug addiction can be considered as a brain disease. The brain is reprogrammed due to the drugs, yet it seeks for the abused drug to function.

Along with how the drugs affect the brain, drug abuse can also cause many other brain diseases. This includes psychological changes like aggression, depression, and insomnia. It can also be neurological effects like numbness and brain damage.

Why is it not a Disease?

Even with all the research on drug addiction, many still believe that it’s not a disease. Many believe that addiction is the result of the victim’s poor choices.

But, if seen in a different perspective, drug addiction is similar to other conditions like heart disease. Heart disease, as an example, can be the result of poor diet and lack of exercise. When we choose to eat more fatty and salty foods and do less to no exercise, we are leading ourselves to health problems. These can result in heart disease, fatty liver, clogged arteries, and many other health conditions.

Drug addiction can be seen the same way. It may be the victim’s choice to take the drug, but there are several drivers along with the drug’s effect that reprogram the brain to trigger the addiction.

It may sound scary, but like other health conditions and disease, there is a way to recover from addiction. However, quitting drugs or alcohol may have withdrawal symptoms that can affect your health as well. This is why recovery from addiction requires a medical professional’s help. A professional can help prevent or control these withdrawal symptoms. Therapies and counseling can also help prevent future relapses after recovery.

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