Addiction as a disease
Addiction is a highly complex disease, caused by biological and psychological factors, and also social and cultural factors. You might be genetically predisposed to the condition, yet it could be exacerbated by the beliefs of your community. A highly stressful work environment can be a trigger. So, your unique biology and life experiences determine the exact nature of your addiction.
This is not to say that nothing can be done. You are not a victim of your addiction. It is absolutely treatable and success rates are high when help is sought. Accepting support from experts means you can regain control of your life. Assistance from others enables us to overcome things we cannot manage alone.
If you feel that your substance abuse is becoming a problem and would like to arrange a free consultation please contact us. We are here to help you.
Addiction and the brain
The brain is remarkably plastic. It shapes and reshapes itself according to your experiences and environment. When something becomes a habit, it gets hardwired as a mental shortcut. That’s why changing a simple aspect of your daily routine – getting up a little earlier, for example, or starting a healthy eating plan – can be tricky.
When you use a pleasurable substance repeatedly, your brain gets very efficient at processing it. Neurons change. You get a chemical rush.
On top of that, there are changes to the nucleus accumbens. Part of the ventral striatum, this part of your brain plays a key role in processing emotion and motivation and modulating reward and pleasure. When addiction kicks in, it becomes highly sensitive to dopamine. The prefrontal cortex, used in rational decision making is also weakened. All this creates an overwhelming compulsion that can be impossible to resist alone.
Fortunately, this neuroplasticity is also the solution. Evidence shows that changing your behaviour and environment will reverse the unhealthy changes caused by your addiction. With support and effort, you can rewire your brain.
The role of willpower
Addiction has been widely misunderstood throughout the world, often being seen as a moral failing by individuals lacking willpower. Nowadays, however, most medical associations recognise it as a disease, notably the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Medical Association. In some parts of the world, sadly, older attitudes persist.
The truth is, no one chooses to get addicted. Many people, perhaps yourself, use certain substances or behaviours recreationally, sometimes to escape following a difficult experience. These can include drugs, alcohol, food, sex and gambling. Then, the brain’s neural circuitry takes over and the habit becomes ingrained and very difficult to break.
Over time, this deepens and mental and physical health deteriorates. Help is required. In serious cases, the addiction takes over and becomes life-threatening. Intervention is the only option. This raises questions about personal responsibility, particularly when behaviour around family and friends is affected. Compassion, especially for oneself, is important.
Arguments against addiction as a disease
Arguments against addiction as a disease often centre around choice. Surely if someone chooses to take a particular substance, then they must be responsible for their addiction? This fails to take into account genetic and psychological disposition to addictions. The truth is, everyone responds to substances differently. Many people enjoy wine without getting addicted to alcohol. Similarly, sex is a part of life for the majority, without it becoming compulsive. For some, however, challenges arise.
Such views are often well-intended and stem from concerns about individuals developing a victim mentality, which discourages personal effort in overcoming the situation. In truth, we all require support in our lives. No one does everything alone. Some of us are in such a deep hole that we cannot get out through our own efforts. Requiring help is not being a victim.
There are also academic debates about whether a brain plasticity issue should be classed as biological, which affects whether something is labelled as a disease. Such discussions are for scientists. For now, the focus must be on support and rehabilitation.
Addiction as a chronic disease
By definition, chronic disease can be controlled but not cured. A heart condition, for example, often requires that preventative medication be taken. For some, addiction involves continuing aftercare and the support of family and friends. Their condition will be progressive, and there will likely be relapses. Between 25% and 50% of people dealing with addiction will develop a chronic disorder. So, the earlier intervention is sought, the better.
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Are you dealing with addiction right now? Or perhaps you’re worried about a friend or family member? Whatever you’re experiencing, our world-class team of experts would love to help.