Is Addiction a Disease?
Yes, addiction is a chronic disease requiring the same kind of medical attention you would give diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart conditions. In fact, it is the overriding consensus among health professionals that addiction is indeed a disease of the brain and body and not a lifestyle choice or mental illness.
Unfortunately, discriminatory attitudes towards people suffering an addiction still prevail in our society. Widespread misinterpretation of an addict's outward behavior completely ignores the complex chemical dysregulation occurring in the brain of an addict. Statements like "They could quit if they wanted to" or "It's just their way of avoiding responsibility" are wrong, prejudicial and do nothing but further the debunked theory that an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a lifestyle choice that can be easily stopped if the addict would only practice better self-control.
What is a Disease?
The clinical definition of a disease describes incorrectly functioning organs, structures or systems of the body attributed to genetics, infections, developmental errors, poisons, harmful environmental factors or nutritional deficiencies. Addiction has all the hallmarks of a disease and should be treated as a disease, not a conscious choice.
Because addiction is a disease, physicians compare relapsing to the way many people with diabetes or asthma "relapse" by not taking medications or practicing healthy lifestyle choices. When addicts enter recovery but relapse at some point, this does not mean they have "failed" or chose not to stop taking drugs. Instead, relapse means that the original treatment program needs readjusted or revamped to better address the complex needs of the addict. While addictive drugs have a powerful effect on the brain's reward pathway, they also impact areas outside this pathway, especially regions controlling decision-making, judgment and logical thinking.
In fact, drugs and alcohol can cause physical changes in the brain by reducing brain cell activity in one area and promoting unwanted connections in another. After these changes in the brain occur, drug cravings become almost instinctual because it is a physiological (medical) problem and not a mental problem
Addiction as a Chronic Disease
Opioids, stimulants and all alcohol disrupt neurotransmitter and brain cell activity in the brain. Until brain chemistry is corrected by abstaining from drugs or alcohol, the disease of addiction will continue exerting a powerful influence over the addict's behavior and thinking patterns.
If addiction continues without treatment, the brain and body starts adapting to surges of neurotransmitters by producing less neurotransmitters implicated in addiction. Consequently, when the addict's system is clear of drugs or alcohol, the brain makes the body feel sick in response and initiates overwhelming cravings that the addict cannot resist. The brain wants to feel "good" again but simply cannot do it on its on anymore.
Is Alcoholism a Disease?
The disease model of alcoholism defines alcoholism as an uncontrollable physical addiction distinguished by a constellation of specific symptoms that require professional medical treatment. Cycles of withdrawal symptoms and physical/psychological cravings (nausea, sweating, tremors, anxiety) have led to alcoholism being classified as a brain disease, not a mental illness or personality disorder.
Substantiating the disease model of alcoholism are research findings that environmental, cultural and genetic factors play critical roles in whether someone eventually becomes an alcoholic. However, most addiction specialists now believe that alcoholism is primarily the result of environmental factors (growing up in a violent or chaotic home, for example) triggering genes that predispose people to alcoholism. In fact, many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases often run in families due to their strong genetic component.
Medically Treating the Disease of Addiction is Vital to a Successful Recovery
Effectively treating substance abuse must begin with a medically supervised detoxification program that incorporates medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and help the brain and body adjust to being substance-free. In addition, patients undergoing detoxification may have other health problems resulting from long-term substance abuse that need addressed, such as malnutrition, anemia, hepatitis or chronic infections.
Advantages to Treating Substance Abuse with Medication
Just like many neurobiological diseases (periphal neuropathy, epilepsy and migraines, for example) that are treated medically, addiction is a also a neurobiological disease that will not respond initially to mental health counseling . Before addiction counselors can address possible mental health issues affecting substance abusers, the addict must undergo a complete medical detoxification so that the brain returns to normal processes responsible for regulating brain and body functions.
Medications used to relieve strong cravings for addictive substances work because they target the same brain receptors that addictive substances target. However, instead of stimulating these receptors, medications suppress receptor activity which also reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. In addition to helping patients liberate themselves from abnormal brain chemistry, medications also provide future benefits when substance abusers are physically well enough to begin addiction counseling.
Additional advantages to addressing an addiction as a medical issue include:
- Significantly reduces the risk of relapse in both alcoholics and drug addicts.
- Offers a solid framework on which substance abusers can start rebuilding their life without interference from dysregulated brain chemistry.
- Can give the recovering addict the courage and confidence to know they have fully detoxed and are now completely capable of taking control of their brain, body and life.
- When brain chemistry and health problems are addressed through medication, the period following detoxification is easier for the patient to cope with and will not interfere with the success of personalized recovery programs.
Why Treating the Disease of Addiction in a Professional Setting is Vital to a Successful Recovery
With the compassionate help of professional addiction physicians, nurses and psychologists who understand that addiction is a disease, you or a loved one will receive evidence-based, unbiased and responsive assistance with overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Viewing addiction as a chronic disease means the goal of rehab and recovery is to attain long-term management instead of finding a quick cure. Our goal at Road to Freedom is to provide our patients with the resources essential for managing their disease, eliminating cravings and re-discovering a fresh, deep relationship with God.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction and needs our help, please call us today to talk to someone who cares, (844) 402-3605.