Is Drug Addiction a Disease? In What Way?

Addiction is often seen as a personal shortcoming. In reality, however, addiction isn’t the result of insufficient strength or willpower. It is instead, a complex disease affecting the brain, its chemistry, and its impact on the entire body’s functioning. Also known as chemical dependency, addiction is a state in which the brain and body are no longer capable of balanced functioning without substances.

When addicts abstain, their bodies experience a heightened state of distress. Withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Memory and cognitive impairment
  • Rapid temperature changes
  • Fluctuations in blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

frequently develop. Depending upon the type and amount of substances used by the individual, withdrawal symptoms can even include seizures and hallucinations. This is large because drug use affects the production and distribution of important chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These are the same chemicals that make people feel relaxed and euphoric while high. Unfortunately, neurotransmitters also play a role in many automatic functions throughout the body and are essential for fine motor control, mood regulation, and many other aspects of the body’s ongoing operations.

Once the production and activities of these chemicals have been altered or disrupted by drug use, people have an incredibly hard time detoxing on their own. If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse, the best way to help yourself is by getting professional help. Medical detox support is designed to mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal by supporting the body and brain until they can relearn how to function substance-free. In these programs, detox and withdrawal are safer, easier, and significantly shorter in duration. However, it’s important to note that addiction isn’t a curable disease. Commonly referred to as substance use disorder, this is a lifelong health issue that people must learn to successfully manage over the long term.

Why Addiction Is Managed Rather Than Cured

Heavy drug and alcohol abuse can cause long-term and even permanent brain damage. In addition to alterations in brain chemistry and braining functioning, regular substance use can actually change a person’s brain size. However, even when addiction doesn’t have lasting effects on the brain, there are still a number of pre-existing factors that make long-term management of this disease essential. These include:

  • A higher risk of psychological stress due to gender
  • Underlying mental health issues or comorbidities
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Memory disorder
  • Pre-existing seratonin or dopamine deficiencies

When people get high, “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine, seratonin, and other neurotransmitters flood the body. For some people, this release is moderate and results in moderate feelings of euphoria. Dopamine and other chemicals like it are part of the brain’s reward system. If you make a major accomplishment, complete a grueling workout, or perform any other task or work that produces impressive results, your brain will reward you by releasing neurotransmitters that elevate your mood.

Taking drugs or drinking alcohol is a way to cheat this process so that you can feel good without any real effort at all. Unfortunately, for some people, taking substances results in a major flood of dopamine, or a far greater reward. These individuals feel especially good when getting high. Worse still, they also feel especially bad when they aren’t getting high. This heightened brain response to substances that trigger neurotransmitters is a precursor for addiction. It is often found in people with a family history of substance use disorder and thus, it’s associated with genetic predisposition.

Although these individuals can successfully detox from drugs and maintain their sobriety without relapsing, they will always have the additional challenge of chemical imbalances throughout the brain’s reward system and circuitry. There are many other physiological factors that can make ongoing sobriety a challenge for those in addiction recovery. For instance, if you struggle with addiction, you may find that you’ve been using drugs as a way to make yourself feel better or “normal” due to an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

Countless people live with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many other mental health issues without ever having them properly treated. For them, addiction is largely caused by efforts to self-treat their own pain. Recognizing addiction as a disease that requires long-term management helps people with comorbidities understand the importance of maintaining treatment plans for their underlying mental health issues. At first, you may find the idea of addiction as a disease a bit disheartening.

This is probably a part of yourself that you’re eager to do away with and put behind you. However, on second look, this definition of addiction takes away a lot of the pressure, guilt, and shame that addicts feel concerning their inability to stop using. Absent of the right support, the fight against addiction is an overwhelmingly challenging one. If you’re ready to start recovery and want the treatment, tools, and resources that will ensure you’re success, we can help you find them. Call us today at 732-392-7311.

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