Is Addiction Really a Disease? Understanding the Science Behind Addiction

 In Addiction

If you suffer from a substance addiction or know someone who does, you’re not alone. In fact, over twenty million Americans suffer from substance abuse disorders in the United States.

But is addiction really a disease? Or are some people just prone to bad decisions and destructive behavior?

Thankfully, there is scientific research that can answer these questions. Are you curious to learn more?

Keep reading. We have tons of information about addiction and the best kind of treatment available. Let’s dive in.

The History of Treatment for Addiction

Let’s start at the beginning. People have abused drugs for hundreds of years.

And during this time period, the attitude toward treatment has changed drastically. After all, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that people began to think of addiction as more than just a weakness or moral failing.

Before then, treatment often involved the addict being forced into imprisonment at an asylum or penitentiary. Of course, these “treatment” methods were both inhumane and ineffective.

When scientists began to study addiction and addictive behavior more in-depth, their opinion changed. Treatments shifted from punishment-based programs to more supportive, helpful solutions. And, slowly but surely, the public opinion changed, too.

However, some people still view addiction as a moral issue. To clear things up, let’s dive deeper into the scientific research behind addiction.

The Science Behind Addiction

If you have experienced addiction in your life, you know how complicated it can be. However, the science behind addiction is a little more cut and dry. Here are some of the basics.

The Brain

The brain is an extremely complicated part of the human body. It’s necessary for all basic tasks, complex tasks, and emotions.

It regulates our bodies’ autonomous functions and how we think and react to others. Essentially, we are our brains.

You may have heard someone compare the brain to an intricate computer. This is because it’s comprised of networks of billions of neurons that communicate by firing signals back and forth. These neurons allow all of our basic functions to occur.

Drugs and the Brain

Different drugs affect the brain in different ways. But they all interfere with the brain’s normal processes.

For example, some drugs, like heroin and marijuana, have a similar chemical structure to natural neurotransmitters. For this reason, these substances can activate neurons in the brain. But because they behave differently to real neurotransmitters, they cause abnormalities within the brain’s sensitive network.

Other drugs, like cocaine or amphetamine, interfere with the way the brain reprocesses neurotransmitters. This can either halt or intensify the communication between neurons.

Why Drugs Feel Good

As you can see, there is real science behind how drugs interact with the human brain. But how does this create a sense of addictive pleasure?

This part of addiction isn’t understood as thoroughly. At first, scientists thought that drug-related pleasure occurred due to a rush of dopamine. However, further research has shown that dopamine may exist to convince us to repeat activities that give us pleasure.

So, because our brain wants us to experience feelings of pleasure again and again, habits form. The more that we do something enjoyable, the easier the dopamine in our brain makes it for us to do again.

This is an important part of the science behind addiction. Drugs create a sense of euphoria or pleasure, and then our brain seeks this pleasure over and over. Often, the brain will choose a pleasure-causing substance over healthy activities.

Dopamine also affects recovery. With the help of dopamine, the brain will connect certain places, people, etc. with the feeling of pleasure from drugs. For example, even after a successful detox and years without drug use, a person could experience intense cravings just by going back to a certain place.

Is Addiction Really a Disease?

So, is drug addiction a disease? The short answer is: yes, addiction is a disease.

In fact, the definition of a disease is a condition that alters the way in which an organ functions. And addiction changes the way the brain functions in a big, fundamental way.

It’s important that we define addiction as such. Otherwise, it forces an unfair amount of responsibility onto the addict.

If someone asks you, “Is addiction a disease?” you can now explain the science to them. The more that we can erase the stigma attached to addiction, the better chance that our loved ones have for true recovery.

Treatment Programs

If you’re interested in being treated for addiction, or you need more information for a friend or family member, look for a local treatment program. This type of service can help anyone fight their addiction disease and win. Here’s what to look for in a trustworthy program.

Supervised Detox

A reliable program will have medically-supervised detox available for those who need it. Professionals will be able to make the detoxing process more comfortable and prevent relapse.

Custom Programs

Not everyone suffering from addiction is the same. And their treatment shouldn’t be either. Look for a service that offers custom care.

Counseling and Therapy

Counseling and therapy are vital for a successful recovery. A trustworthy treatment center will offer one-on-one and group counseling, as well as psychotherapy. They may also offer family therapy and parenting instruction.

Fun Activities

No one will recover in an atmosphere without fun distractions. An effective program will include diverting activities for recovering addicts, like sports and games.

24/7 Care

If you enroll in a treatment program, you want to feel supported at all times. After all, the disease of addiction can be unpredictable. Look for a center that offers care 24 hours a day.

Take Care

Is addiction really a disease? We can see from the scientific proof above that yes, it is. It alters the way the brain functions and makes unassisted recovery nearly impossible for many.

Don’t let an addiction control your life. And don’t let anyone tell you that your or a loved one’s addiction is not a disease.

Want more information about addiction and recovery? Check out our blog page for tons of resources and advice.

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