Is Drug Addiction A Disease?

We often get asked this question by friends and family members of drug addicts. Their loved ones could not seem to deeply understand why it would be difficult for anyone addicted on any kind of substance to just quit. It is also extremely difficult for them to believe that stopping drugs actually hurt the individuals emotionally and physically.

For all well-meaning friends and family of an addicted user, more than anything else, it is good to know that the struggle is not just to stop a habit because it is more than just that; it is a disease. A person who takes drugs or alcohol for a prolonged period of time can actually change the way their brain performs. In fact, the addiction will completely alter the very crucial parts of their brain functions so much that the addicted user will have a very difficult time to completely say no more of the drug use.

The scenario is true even if they wanted to stop and this is, the brain disease model of addiction according to researchers.

Experts view the addiction to drugs not as a lack of willpower, but an actual illness that needs to be treated. Just like any other disease, drugs and even alcohol addiction takes healing and with healing, it needs time.

Research on Brain Science revealed that addiction harms the brain in three major ways:

It changes the brain’s reward circuits making it less sensitive.

There are drugs that can cause the brain to release large amounts of dopamine making a person feel the pleasure sensation. This scenario is preferred for those who are suffering severe chronic pain.

However, if taken for an extended course of time, the brain circuit can actually become imbalanced. The drug tricked the brain’s reward system to create the “desire” to use the drug because it promises the same pleasurable feeling they had when they first took it. The sad news is that same feeling is never fully recreated; thus the need for more dosage or more frequent use.

Addictive drugs also increase the brain’s reaction to stress.

Some brain circuits function to control how we respond to stressful situations. With an addicted person, the system of circuits becomes hyperactive, making the user feel high levels of stress when not on drugs.

 

Drugs weaken the regions of the brain that allow individuals to make a good decision.

These affect the prefrontal cortex, which should be helping the person make decisions and control their impulses. Thus, like a car with worn-out brakes, the user won’t be able to stop because they could no longer control their impulse of taking the drug repeatedly.

How To Treat The Drug Addiction Disease?

The knowledge that addiction is a disease helps researchers develop treatments for it. They understand that the addicted users are not necessarily weak, but are actually fighting an illness which may seem impossible to overcome.

We must embrace the concept that addiction is a chronic disease where drugs disrupt the most fundamental brain circuits. With this knowledge, we will be able to decrease the stigma within families, workplaces, and the society as a whole. The acceptance of the disease may encourage addicted users to seek evidence-based treatments like methadone for opioid addiction. They will receive the help they need the most just like a person with diabetes, heart disease or cancer does.

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