Drug Addiction Is a Chronic Disease

I have hear people argue that drug addiction should not be considered a disease and should instead be considered as a lifestyle that is detrimental to one’s health, such as cigarette smoking. It is their belief that drug addiction is something that a person can start doing and then later on, quit doing cold turkey. It is my opinion, however that drug addiction is a disease that can be considered chronic in nature and relies heavily on the influence of hereditability, environmental conditions, and the ability of inability of the addict to respond to treatment programs.

The reason that drug addiction was classified as an illness is really simple and easily understandable. Drug addiction became a disease because of the following factors according to the American Medical Association:

  • The illness can be described.
  • The course of the illness is predictable and progressive.
  • The disease is primary – that is, it is not just a symptom of some other underlying disorder.
  • It is permanent.
  • It is terminal. If left untreated, it results in insanity or premature death.

There have been recent human studies wherein the interacting influences of both the environment and genetics have been proven to be strong contributors to addiction. It is a case somewhat similar to a person who has a family history of cardiovascular disease and yet ignores it and continues to do things that could hasten the advent of his disease. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has described the hereditary factor as “like other chronic diseases, is a heritable disorder and that genes play a role in vulnerability to addiction. Genes can also play a role in protecting individuals from addiction.” (NIDA, Addiction Is A Disease).

Indeed, the actual cause of drug addiction has been long debated without success. The common perception, however, is that drug addiction is “primarily a moral or character problem, something caused by degeneracy or lack of willpower.” ( Firsheim. Introduction: Addiction As A Disease). This was the same argument used by alcoholics to defend their disease until 40 years ago when the American Medical Association actually declared Alcoholism to be a disease.

Thanks to recent developments in brain analysis technology, the scientific world has now managed to conclude that drug addiction causes a change in the brain that makes them lose control over an activity that they should actually be able to practice self control over. Therefore the conclusion they reached is that drug addiction is “a neurologically based disease” ( Addiction: A Neurological Disorder).

The reality is that addiction is not about will power or the user’s belief that he can stop the habit anytime. The chemicals that they absorb into their system are not like placenta or sugar tablets which are harmless. It is not like taking an aspirin. This drug cause neurological destruction in the user and therefore affects the brain and nervous system. This is explained in the medical community as changes within the neurotransmitter balances and is then ” driven by millions upon millions of new living, functioning active neurological pathways which have been established to sustain the condition in the addicts brain.” ( Addiction: A Neurological Disorder)

Due to the new pathways created to support the habit, the user develops a neurological disorder that will react in what it perceives to be a normal manner for the brain, causing uncontrollable cravings that overwhelm the person. So it is safe to argue that the cravings of the addict and the addictions itself stems from the new nerve impulses in the brain. It is merely a response to a habit, just as a person would respond to hunger pangs by eating to remove the craving.

Indeed, drug addiction is a disease caused by the rewiring of the brain to accept harmful behavior as a normal part of its function. These changes in the function of the brain that affect the sector of the brain known as the Midbrain is what causes the brain to malfunction.

Just like any part of the human body, the brain also experiences stress. An addicts brain is constantly under pressure to find the chemical that helps it feel different, thus, causing the brain to shut down until the craving is fulfilled. Therefore, we must realize that just like in the case of any illness or disease, the brain of a drug addict is sick. The midbrain becomes defective and causes hedonic dysregulation and the inability to decipher right from wrong, leading to the loss of control, craving, and drug use

All my readings regarding this argument has led me to believe in only one thing, that addiction can be classified as a disease of the brain and therefore cannot be treated without intervention of sorts. Just because addiction is a disease does not mean that drug addicts can no longer stop the addiction, it does not have to lead to death. Instead, by accepting that drug addiction is a disease, a drug addict can be helped to find the right medical treatment and apply the proper lifestyle changes to help him get cured of the disease.

What is important for drug addicts is for them to learn to change their behavior in order to beat the disease. After all, unhealthy people under medical care get guidance and treatments to help them surpass their illness. It is a matter of wanting to recover and having the proper cures available for the addict to use.

It may have taken the medical world a long time to get around to the concept of drug addiction as a disease, but it is even harder for the addicts to accept that they do have a disease instead of a moral problem. Being a pathological illness, the addiction causes behavioral changes detrimental to the well being of the person. However, due to the slowness of the progress of the disease, most untrained people, such as family members, would rather see the illness as an emotional weakness that can be beat through family support and nothing more.

Finally, I would like to close my argument regarding addiction as a disease by explaining that as a disease, drug addiction affects the neurological, chemical, and physical attributes of the addict and cause permanent damage. It is a severe disease that requires severe treatments. The newly developed neurological pathways the brain created in order to deal with the illness now have a direct say in the life of the person causing this illness be classified as a self contracted neurological and physical disease. Therefore medical intervention will be necessary in order to save the brain of the person and anytime medical intervention becomes necessary in order to cure a patient, that patient has a disease or actual illness. Not a weakness in personality.

Work Cited

“Addiction Is A Chronic Disease”. National Institute On Drug Abuse. 2008. Web.

“Addiction: The Disease Concept”. Solutions Outpatient Services. 2008. Web.

Florsheim, Janet. “”Introduction: Addiction As a Disease”. Movers On Addiction: Close To Home. (2008). Web.

Hughes, David R. “Addiction As A Disease”. Addiction: A Neurological Disorder. (1997). Web.

McCauley, Kevin T. “Is Addiction Really A Disease?”. State Bar Of Texas. (1996-2008). Web.