Discussions about addiction come with strong feelings. For some, these discussions are political. Sometimes, debates become personal — your personal history, your views on social and medical policies and your knowledge on the subject — all come into play when these contentious topics come up.

One of the most heated discussions revolves around the question, is drug addiction a disease or a choice? In this article, we’ll explore the answer to the question and the science behind it; plus, what to do if you’re struggling with addiction.

Is drug addiction a disease?

Yes, drug addiction is a disease. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an addiction is defined as a chronic condition, manifested by substance-seeking behaviors despite harmful consequences.

The Surgeon General’s Report in 2016 affirms this view stating that the science and most relevant literature all point to addiction affecting a person similarly to other chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

Why is drug addiction a disease and not a choice? This is largely due to the way that the substances themselves act on the brain. Opioids, for example, bind to neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure and pain relief. So, while there are devastating consequences to drug use, the brain is manipulated by the substance into ignoring them.

In addiction, the brain’s reward circuitry is rewired. Certain drugs are more addictive than others, and individual genetic, environmental and personality factors are also at play in the development of addiction. However, it is clear that once a person builds up a tolerance to a substance, the addiction functions similarly to a chronic condition.

Historically, drug addiction was seen as a moral failure. As research has grown in this area, it has become clear that the brain is reprogrammed, due to no preference or choice of the individual using the substances. The stigma around addiction still lingers, though.

Many opponents of the view regarding addiction as a disease will argue that when people become addicted to drugs or alcohol, it generally starts with choice. Yet while some individuals seek out substances the first few times, the progression of the addiction is anything but voluntary.

What is considered a drug addiction?

While some individuals may claim to use drugs on a recreational basis, how does a person know when this casual hobby has turned into a full-fledged addiction? 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an addiction is characterized by interferences in relationships, school or work and general life tasks. When a person is not using the drug, he or she will have uncontrollable thoughts about using the substance, show physical symptoms and start to experience withdrawal.

If you’re unable to go a day without drugs or start to feel the effects of not having a substance, you’re likely struggling with an addiction. It’s time to reach out for help.

How treatment for drug addiction differs from other diseases

Starting treatment for a drug addiction will look different than it would for other medical diseases. While drug addiction is a disease, it still has a unique set of components that keep it distinct from being effectively treated by only medical treatment.

First, treatment generally includes behavioral interventions. Due to addiction’s impact on the brain, retraining the mind to think differently and analyze consequences logically is a major facet of treatment. Just as you would receive physical therapy for an injury, you’ll want mental health therapy to treat an addiction.

There is also medication available to assist individuals in getting sober. These substances either counteract or interrupt the effects of drugs, giving a person the upper hand in battling the lure of using again. Moreover, medication can make the transition through detox and withdrawal more manageable.

All evidence points to medication-assisted treatment working best when combined with behavioral therapies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

One of the most evident differences in treatment for addiction and other medical conditions is the location of treatment. Most interventions for substance use occur in facilities specifically designed to treat addiction. 

While physical symptoms (like overdose attempts, seizures, etc.) may be addressed in a hospital setting. The bulk of treatment will happen at a building designed for inpatient or outpatient drug addiction recovery.

Accessing intervention for drug addiction

Drug addiction is a serious condition, and you deserve professional intervention. A life of freedom is possible with the right treatment, so start today with Silvermist Recovery.

Silvermist Recovery is an addiction treatment facility in Western Pennsylvania that offers a variety of holistic approaches and evidence-based treatment to give you the best shot at long-lasting recovery. Call today.