Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

 In Drug & Alcohol Addiction

People with addictions are often shamed. For many years people with addictions were seen as weak people, or morally deficient at least. There is growing evidence, however, that addiction is a disease.  There is the choice of taking drugs for the first time, and there is the choice to seek help with the addiction, but medical officials are recognizing that it is a disease.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls it “a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.”  The NIH includes alcohol, tobacco, legal and illegal drugs in its umbrella of drug definition. The NIDA considers it a mental disorder and a mental illness.

Starting to use a substance may be a choice a person can make. Repeated use, however, can lead to changes in the brain and that is what the illness of addiction is, according to the NIDA.

The Definition of Addiction

While the NIDA accepts addiction as a disease. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by mental health providers, does not call addiction a disease. Instead, it calls it “substance abuse disorder,” with levels of mild, moderate and severe.

There are 11 criteria mental health officials use to determine a person’s level of addiction. If a person has two or three, they are considered a mild user. Having four or five would disrupt the person’s life somewhat, This is moderate and is called “misuse” by mental health officials. Six or more is considered severe, which is the level that is considered addiction. Addiction can be many things, such as alcohol, painkillers, opioids, heroin, and many other drugs.

Dependence, Tolerance & Addiction

There are three levels of misusing substances, according to the NIDA.  Physical dependence can be developed by using any substance regularly, even when it is a prescribed drug used a directed. The body adapts to the substance, and when it is taken away, the body reacts in a negative way.  Craving the substance, and withdrawal symptoms can result when the substance is not there.

Tolerance is when the body adjusts to the substance. Because of that adjustment the person has to take a higher dosage to get the same effect.

Addiction is a chronic disorder, which is where it reaches the level of disease. This is characterized by the person still compulsively using the substance even with negative consequences.

The Brain & Addiction

Drugs that are considered addictive flood the circuits with dopamine, a chemical that gives the person either physical or mental pleasure.  Dopamine works in the brain area that is in charge of movement, emotion, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding or positive behaviors.  Drugs cause overstimulation of this area of the brain, which encourages the person to repeat the drug use to get that level of pleasure again.

Dr. Michael Mierer, writing for the Harvard Medical School’s online edition, says understanding how the brain works could lessen some of the stigmas of being a drug addict. He also says the science could change how treatment is done. It is known an adolescent’s brain is still forming, and therefore most vulnerable. Intervention at that point in a person’s life would be the most effective time to stop addiction, he wrote.

Over time, with the overstimulation of the brain’s circuits, changes to the brain occur. The person’s self-control gets impaired.  There are changes in the brain that affect judgment, decision making, memory and behavior control.  While the initial use of the substance was a choice and normally voluntary, over time the brain changes to the point that it is no longer voluntary.

What are My Options for Treating Addiction?

The NIDA believes a combination of medication and behavior therapy can help people overcome addiction. That is not all there is to it, but those are the main two things mental health officials use when approaching addiction treatment. The environment, social issues, drug use patterns, and medical history are also issues. Someone with alcoholism, for instance, might also need to change their environment as part of treatment.

The NIDA considers addiction to be a chronic illness, meaning it may never be totally cured. Relapses happen in all chronic illnesses, so mental health workers are not too surprised when a relapse happens. Those with addiction know it is a possibility. Another treatment or a different treatment may be needed when a relapse happens. Once a person is addicted, drug rehab is recommended by mental health officials. There are a lot of drug rehab options in Southern California.

Get Help for Addiction in Newport Beach

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol it is imperative to take action immediately. Just released data shows that a person is now more likely to die from an accidental drug overdose rather than a car accident. Newport Beach Recovery Center offers women a safe haven, where they can heal in a secluded environment. Contact us today or call us at 1-855-213-3869.

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Comments
  • Linda Bull
    Reply

    I think I’m going to Tarzana in Lancaster. I have Medi-cal. I would like 3 months of inpatient rehab. Just Alcolhol, no detox.

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