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Addiction is a part of us. It’s tied into our survival instincts, keeping us alive and functional. Back in the times of early man, it ensured that our species gravitated to what’s good for us and stay away from what can potentially eliminate us.

It wasn’t so bad before, but in this modern times, with advances in our technology, addiction takes a whole new, destructive form.

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

Before, it wasn’t. When it was first analyzed, we theorized that it’s the individual’s own fault and that it’s only a matter of choice. We could be addicted to anything, be it sports, watching our favorite shows, iced tea or working out. All these things have one thing in common: it provides us pleasure, a high of some sort or a state of bliss and well-being. Most of the time, we do this to balance our stressful lives out.

When substances that could alter our mental states were discovered, addiction took on a new shape. Now that we don’t have to put too much effort, and receive profound effects, our supposed survival mechanism turns against us. It makes us seek the substance and ignore everything in our path. We try to resist it, but we don’t win all the time.

This is why it’s been called a disease. Our own brain goes against us, making us think of the substance above everything else, that our functionality relies on the substance. Our brain tells us that everything will be alright as soon as we get our dose, ignoring our health and our well-being.

Is It a Mental Disease?

Just as drug addiction was classified as a disease, they had to see if it was a mental disease. It matters because looking for a cure relies on it. If it was a physiological disease, then it can be treated with medication. If it was a behavioral disease, then it can be reversed or treated with conditioning, reprogramming or therapy.

Addiction messes with the brain’s fundamental processes. It muddles a person’s hierarchy of needs in many ways. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom-most needs are the biological needs. We need food, water, warmth, and rest. Without these needs, we would die in a month or less. Addiction sometimes overrides this, causing us to forgo food, water, sometimes rest.

The second tier of needs is security and safety. Once we meet all our biological needs, we seek security and safety, to ensure that we can look forward to surviving the next day. Once again, addiction distorts this.

More than that, some people have actual mental illnesses that push them into addiction. Depression, paranoia, trauma, phobias, and more can push a person into addiction. The irony is they are often pushed to it due to an initial conscious effort to control the illness. They want to either escape it or feel normal. Before they knew it, they are dependent on the substance.

Is It a Choice?

In these times, people are rather unsympathetic to addicts. They would offer their sentiments to people suffering from phobias or struggling with bipolar disorders. Yet they turn their cheeks when they see an addict, all because “it’s their choice” and people suffering from other mental illnesses “Didn’t ask for it.”

The horrible truth is that addicts didn’t ask for it. Some may argue that it was their own choice to take the drug, but that’s less than half of the story. Drugs are not addictive just by taking a taste of them. A healthy person can take a dose of narcotics and later, they can say that it was simply a unique experience.

Addiction has drivers, factors that push a person into taking the substance. The brain won’t make you do something you don’t need, so if you don’t need narcotics or alcohol, your brain won’t urge you. However, if there are factors in your life that push you into taking it, your brain won’t hesitate.

These factors can be extreme stress, bottled-up emotions, pain, trauma. If they are constant and untreated, the brain will seek ways to get away from this stress. If mind-altering drugs or the abyss of alcoholism can help the brain, then so be it. Truth be told, our brain has functions that are outside of our own consciousness. Called the subconscious thought, it influences our choices and sometimes, its influence is stronger than our own.

Addiction is not a choice. It’s the culmination of several factors that lead to a condition. Many people are already addicts without them realizing it. Their own minds would justify their dangerous habits, downright lying to themselves, just to protect their precious survival and functional mechanism.

Is It Genetic? Can You Pass it On?

Many believed that addiction is someone’s choice, that it’s caused by the lack of due diligence. It’s a disease, a mental disease for that matter. Worst of all, it is genetic.

All manner of life gravitates towards what keeps them alive and functional. Animals would eat food that keeps them healthy enough to live another day. Even plants would go to lengths to find that one ray of sunshine, or that source of water that would keep them alive. This instinct is written in our DNA, the molecular instructions that make us what we are. Sometimes, the code for addiction is normal. Sometimes it’s so weak that a person becomes ironically addicted to change. In some cases, it’s stronger.

Some people are born with a particularly strong code for addiction. The addiction centers in their brain grow to become more sensitive compared to others. The reason behind this is that some of this person’s previous generations were also addicts. If addiction kept them alive enough to procreate, then that very habit gets written in our DNA.

Our DNA changes as we get older. If we practice our addictions, there’s a chance that our DNA changes to reflect our current surviving body’s state. The only good thing is that the chances of transferring it are not 100%. The actual possibility is unknown, but there is a possibility.

One other factor that passes it on, outside of genetics is directly observable behavior. If someone sees their relative go through addiction, especially during their growing years, they might get the idea that it’s normal to experience it. Unless properly educated, the witness to this behavior might develop similar habits. This is especially true in families that both justify and enable the addiction. If it was part of the “norm”, the brain won’t feel estranged about addiction and allow it to happen.

Is It a Disability?

The answer to this question stems from two parts. The first part is if Addiction can be considered a disability, in which you can get disability benefits from. The second part is more of a moral standpoint. Is addiction so debilitating that a person can be considered disabled?

In some states, you can apply for disability benefits, not for the addiction, but the effects. If your alcoholism has caused irreparable liver damage that impedes your daily functions, Social Security may accept your claim and award you with disability benefits.

If you are an addict who cannot function without the product, suffering from constant withdrawal symptoms that impede your daily lifestyle, Social Security will not grant you benefits.

The commonly acceptable scenario is that the addiction has caused permanent and irreparable damage. The addiction itself is not a disability.

On a moral standpoint, many would agree that addicts will find it hard to function normally. There are high-functioning addicts though, people who appear and act normal and sometimes better than the ordinary person. This may be because they have a high sense of self, a constant supply of the drug and not a lot of opposition against their addiction. The fact is, that it will eventually crumble. Drug abuse always leads to a problem, one way or another, given enough time. Once high-functioning addicts lose their supply or develop physiological and mental problems, their lives will crumble faster than a sandcastle on high-tide.

Bottom Line

Many would still argue if addiction is a disease or a choice. The bigger problem is that people think that it has to be one or the other. One perspective often unthought of is that it’s both a choice and a disease. If the person consciously took the substance, then yes it is their choice, but addiction does not start there.

A person who drinks alcohol doesn’t turn into an alcoholic over time. If that person, however, has mental issues and/or constant big stressors, then he may take alcohol to help cope. Sooner or later, as long as the stressors remain and the alcohol is accessible, the person becomes addicted. The person then cannot stop even if they wanted to, due to the impending withdrawal effects and the brain’s rewiring. Somewhere in between, it stops being a choice and evolves into a disease.

Either way, you put it, addicts need help. If they could help themselves, they would have done so.

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