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Is Addiction a Disease?

Woman wondering, "Is addiction a disease?"

The current addiction epidemic in the U.S. has far surpassed a critical level. Fortunately, substance use disorders are treatable, and addiction treatment saves countless lives.

But is addiction a disease? The answer to this question runs deeper than just opinion, and the facts point to “yes.” If you or someone you love are in need of addiction treatment, contact Vertava Health Ohio at 844.954.1771.

Is Addiction a Disease?

Excessive use of drugs, including alcohol, continues to be one of the leading causes of death that are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To understand why addiction is a disease, it’s imperative that we look at what a “disease” is.

According to Britannica, a disease is a disorder of function or structure, especially one that affects a certain location or produces specific symptoms. It’s also not a direct result of a physical injury.

The Stigma of Drug Addiction

A stigma is a deep-rooted opinion or stance about something that has a negative connotation. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, unfortunately, the stigma is that people with a substance use disorder have morally failed. Sadly, because of this stigma, many people don’t seek the addiction treatment they need.

The addiction stigma of today marks substance use as a moral failure. However, science has proven that this is not so. Researchers have known for years that addiction is a chronic illness — a disease — that is marked by impactful changes in the brain.

Members of the public who feed into this stigma do not understand that the answer to the question, “Is drug addiction a disease?” is a resounding “yes.”

How Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

It’s critical to understand that addiction to drugs or alcohol doesn’t happen because of a lack of willpower, moral fortitude, self-control, or even a willingness to stop. Researchers know this because of decades of studies on the effects of substance use disorders on the brain.

When people first use a substance, they believe they will not have any problems controlling their use, and they take drugs or drink alcohol voluntarily. Over time, without a person being aware of it, tolerance builds in the brain and body, which means that more of the substance is needed to produce the same effects.

After a time, seeking out and using the substance becomes much more consistent and can easily become almost constant. As the addiction grows, other problems result, some of which include:

  • Strained relationships with others
  • Poor performance at work or in school
  • Problems sleeping well
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawal from activities and people the person used to enjoy

In addition, progressive changes in the brain occur, driving the uncontrollable drug use further and maintaining the addiction. Individuals at this stage cannot voluntarily give up substances, regardless of the costs.

The Brain and Drug Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drugs and alcohol hijack dopamine receptors and signal to the brain that those substances offer rewards. They do this by binding to brain cells to release dopamine, the “feel good” chemical the body produces.

As substance use increases, the brain produces less natural dopamine on its own. This causes people to continue escalating their substance use to get the same effect.

Cognitive ability can become permanently impaired as brain chemistry changes and areas that control motor skills, speech, and other actions are damaged by substance use.

Drug Addiction Treatment at Vertava Health Ohio

Research has long shown that addiction can be treated and managed successfully, and patients can improve the quality of their lives as they reach and maintain a healthier lifestyle. To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact Vertava Health Ohio today at 844.954.1771.