Is Addiction A Disease? Ultimate Guide

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Is addiction a disease? This is a hot topic question for many people. Some people argue that addiction is a choice addicts make and can be solved with better judgement and willpower. However, there are many doctors and scientists who are questioning if willpower alone can stop addiction and if addiction is a disease and not poor judgement alone.

There are multiple scientific explanations that answer the question of is addiction a disease. However, there are many who think addiction is not a disease because addicts are actively choosing to be addicts. People assume that someone who has cancer hasn't actively chosen to have cancer and the difference between addicts and cancer patients all comes down to a choice. Many think addicts can say “no” when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

There are multiple studies, however, that show addicts have a hard time saying “no” due to chemical imbalances in the brain. More data is coming out that concludes chemical imbalances in the brain cause issues with judgement and problem solving. This article discusses how scientists and doctors are answering the controversial question of is addiction a disease and the research behind their conclusions regarding is addiction a disease.

What Is The Definition Of Disease?

A disease is defined as an impairment of a structure that creates dysfunction for humans, animals and plants distinguished by symptoms that aren't necessarily the result of a physical injury. Breaking a bone by accident is not considered a disease because it is a physical injury that caused the dysfunction. Cancer, for instance, is considered a disease because it can be distinguished through signs and symptoms that impair the body. A disease can be caused through genetics, lifestyle choices and other external factors.

Is Addiction A Disease?

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There are four distinct points to consider when answering the question is addiction a disease. The first point of evidence to support is addiction a disease is the chemical changes drugs make in the brain. The second main factor is the connection between mental illness and addiction. The third piece of evidence is genetics and the influence of childhood. Last is the question of willpower.

Below are the four main points with information as to why addiction could be considered a disease.


Chemical Changes In The Brain

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For basic human needs, such as eating, having sex and drinking, the brain releases chemicals such as serotonin that make us feel good. These chemicals create the feeling of being rewarded when our needs are met. When using drugs, these same chemicals are released, inducing a sense of reward to the addict. Drugs can change the chemicals in the brain and once the addict begins using regularly, the brain treats the drug use as if it is a physical need such as eating or sleeping. The body then triggers responses in the body that it needs to use the drug again.

When the user hasn't used for a while, the body goes into withdrawal, which means the body and the brain are not able to function properly without the drug. The brain uses chemicals like serotonin to encourage the body towards certain habits it needs to function regularly, like eating. When the brain becomes used to being high on drugs or alcohol, the brain begins to operate as if drugs and alcohol are necessities and works to encourage the body to use them. According to researchers, these chemical changes rewire the brain, making addiction more than just a choice of "yes" or "no".

This chemical misfiring can also cause long-term damage, even after the user has stopped using, because it can permanently rewire the brain. This research further leans toward the conclusion that addiction is a disease.


Mental Illness And Addiction

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People suffering from mental illness have a higher chance of becoming addicts than neurotypical people. Although there isn't a direct answer why the correlation between mental disorders and addiction is high, mental disorders usually cause people to have poor judgement and sporadic responses. People who have bipolar disorder, for instance, are drawn to substances because they enhance their moods. However, the “come down” from the highs can be life threatening due to the instability the chemical imbalance causes.

People with mental illness may also try to treat the negative parts of their illness with drugs, to feel more “up” than depressed, for instance. And although the high of a drug can ease a depressive episode, it can also cause severe harm when the high is over.

Mental illness is a predisposition to addiction, making scientist lean toward the conclusion that addiction is more like a disease than not. Doctors are leaning to yes when having to answer is addiction a disease.


Genetics And Childhood

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There is a considerable amount of evidence that supports is addiction a disease. Studies show that if children grew up around drug use, they will have a higher risk of abusing drugs. There is also evidence that supports that if children have parents who are addicts, children will have a higher risk for developing addictions to drugs themselves. People exposed to drugs often are more likely to normalize drug use and use illegal substances.

Through epigenetics, a baby can be born already addicted to certain drugs due to the mother taking drugs while pregnant. This child is not an addict because they themselves were not taking drugs. They are an addict because their mother was taking drugs and now their chemical wiring is predisposed to being a drug addict. The child's genetics have changed due to being born from a parent who is a drug addict, which was not the fault of the child. A child born with cancer is treated as if the cancer is a disease. A child born addicted to heroin can also be considered being born with a disease.



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Although people can say “no” to drugs, ultimately, they don't choose how their brain responds to drugs which makes it hard to answer is addiction a disease. If willpower was enough, there wouldn't be much of a debate over is addiction a disease. Scientists prove that the brain cannot function properly when misusing drugs and that the ability to choose whether to do drugs isn't a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

Many people can't control their urges, and when intervention comes into the picture, it can require severe hospitalization in order for the addict to recover. However, once recovered, relapse is still strongly possible and likely. Addiction doesn't necessarily end when the user stops using. In fact, many researchers are concluding that addiction never goes away even if drug use ends. Addicts will in some sense always be addicts and are encouraged by healthcare professionals to seek long-term treatment to stay in recovery.

What Medical Experts Think

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Medical experts confronted with the question is addiction a disease vary in their responses. However, many agree that addiction is a disease. Medical experts recognize that addiction is a lifelong disorder that requires multiple treatments and monitoring even when the addict becomes sober.

Experts encourage people living with addiction to maintain therapy and other modes of help to remain sober. Addiction can cause severe lifelong damage if not managed, and scientists recognize that it isn't something that can be fully cured.

Medical experts agree that drug addiction is debilitating and can't be solved by just saying “no” to drugs. Drugs affect the brain through triggering certain chemicals and responses which can lead to sporadic behavior and impulsivity. They think that addiction should be modeled as a disease because the user has lost the ability to say no and can require medical attention to get sober.


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Is addiction a disease is a tough question to answer for many people. However, researchers find that addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as one. Many people don't choose how their brain will react to drug use and cannot say “no” to drugs once they are hooked.

Drugs cause the brain to rewire itself and can cause it to release certain chemicals that trigger the reward system in the brain. This rewiring can cause the brain to treat drugs as if they are a necessity like food and water. Addiction can also be caused by mental illness, which is of no fault of the user, but by a predisposition to being mentally ill.

Mental disorders and drug use have a high correlation which further causes the question is addiction a disease to be considered a rational question. Genetics and childhood upbringing also cause medical experts to recognize that addiction can be passed down through generations, making some people more susceptible to addiction. Having the willpower to say “no” is much harder for addicts because their brain chemistry is different from people who are not addicts and the addict's body needs the drug in order to function.

However controversial the question is addiction a disease, many experts say that addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as a disease. The research shows that addiction is a lifestyle that many don't want to live. With treatment and care, addicts can recover. They will also need to follow strict recovery programs to remain sober. Is addiction a disease is a question that many scientists are answering with a clear answer: yes, addiction is a disease.

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