3 Reasons Why Addiction is a Disease and Not a Choice

The debate has been around for as long as people have been addicted to substances. On one side, some people firmly hold onto the belief that addiction is a choice, and users can stop at any time if they set their minds to it. On the other side, others proclaim that addiction is a physical disease requiring medical and psychological intervention.

Which side are you on? Are you with the “addiction’s not a real disease” proponents? Or maybe you have the mindset that substance abuse is a legitimate disease, and individuals are powerless to addictions the same way a diabetic depends on insulin, or person in heart failure clings to cardiac medication to go on living.

The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse describes addiction this way:  “Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves the compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts regions of the brain responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment, and memory. It damages various body systems as well as families, relationships, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.”

3 Reasons Why Addiction is a Disease and Not a Choice: A Heroin addict injects himself.

3 Reasons Why Addiction is a Disease and Not a Choice: A Heroin addict injects himself.

When you think about the devastating health consequences of addiction – Hepatitis, liver failure, HIV, mouth and body sores, thinning hair and the erosion of teeth, who do you know that would choose that life? Furthermore, who wants to lose their family, career, and sense of self-respect to become fully enslaved to a substance that destroys every good thing in their lives?

Read on about three reasons why addiction is a disease and not a choice. You’ll have a new perspective on what it’s like to be controlled by drugs or alcohol and unable to stop abusing them:

Substance Abuse Changes the Brain:

Think about what you ate for breakfast. When basic needs are met such as water, sex or the bowl of cereal that satisfied your hunger this morning, specific chemicals in the brain are released. These neurochemicals trigger a pleasurable response and feeling. In cases of addiction, the reward center of the brain gets hijacked.

Drugs and alcohol also release those feel-good chemicals but in a much higher quantity.

The brain wants to obtain that euphoric feeling again, but higher quantities of the drug are necessary to gain the same effect. Intense cravings are impossible to shrug off, and addicts neglect self-care and basic needs to obtain and use more of the substance. In severe cases, drug users will stop caring about their well-being or survival, and the central focus for living becomes “when, where and how can I get another hit?”

Will Power is Not Enough:

You can see a conscious choice in the early phase of substance abuse. Initially, the casual user doesn’t experience the overwhelming compulsion to use drugs. Some people are recreational abusers for years or even a lifetime. You likely know some of them in your own life. Known as the “weekend warrior” or “binge drinker,” these individuals enjoy their substance of choice and look forward to the next time in which they can use again. The difference between the recreational user and the addict is that the occasional partier can stop drinking or using drugs.

The Addict Cannot Stop Using:

Binge users can prioritize needs and desires, and while he may occasionally oversleep due to heavy drinking the night before, he also wants to maintain his job and can postpone using again until a more appropriate time.

Addicts Feel Motivated to Keep Using Despite Negative Consequences: As the sufferer continues to use, he or she begins to experience medical symptoms that are uncomfortable, embarrassing and even physically painful.

For the addict, it isn’t about choice, but instead about an immensely powerful internal drive to get high now. The same way you need a breakfast sandwich or oatmeal before you go out and tackle your day, the addict experiences a deeply rooted compulsion to get high or drunk.

Remember, as internal brain circuitry begins to change abnormally, the user becomes more dependent, and his priorities shift. Health and relationships lose value as the disease evolves into a full-blown addiction.

Food, hygiene, sleep, and finances are no longer motivating factors in one’s life – drugs are.

Essentially, the brain is tricked into believing that the substance is more important than anything else. Have you ever heard someone describe an addict as unwilling to change? A more accurate statement is:

Addicts are unable to change without medical and psychological interventions that provide insight into the causes of addiction and what they can do to live balanced, healthy and drug-free lives.

What appears as lack of motivation is the brain’s inability to think about anything other than drugs. Once an addict uses, brain chemistry reinforces a positive response, and the vicious cycle continues.

The next time you pass by a homeless alcoholic on the street or hear another story about your neighbor who keeps making bad choices due to addiction, think about the biological and chemical components of substance abuse. A means for fun and socialization likely spun out of control and developed into a full-blown medical disease.

Think about substance abuse from the eyes of an addict and you will discover a new perspective that provides valuable knowledge to your community. With that awareness, we can improve lives.

Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash