Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

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Families around the globe with loved ones that have experienced addiction will often tell you that it’s a disease and not a choice. Many point to the character of their son, daughter, sister, brother or some other family member before addiction. They may share how nobody ever thought it would happen to them. Over a decade ago, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) classified addiction as a chronic brain disorder. This occurred long after the American Medical Association (AMA) defined alcoholism as a disease.

The AMA also classified addiction as a disease. The process of determining whether something is a disease is extensive. It involves a significant amount of research and the involvement of respected medical specialists, neuroscientists and doctors. The process also involves authorities from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It has taken many years to understand addiction, and there is still a lot to learn, just like there is for other chronic diseases. It remains an ongoing learning process that deserves the attention it receives.

How Addiction Changes Your Brain

There is no denying that addiction of any kind can be hard to understand, especially if you don’t personally know anyone with an addiction. Since it’s a chronic brain disease, that means anyone can be affected, regardless of your socioeconomic background. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have. When the use of drugs and alcohol is uncontrollable, it can significantly impact your life. It often has the biggest impact on your relationships, career and financial stability. If you’re a student, it will be difficult to focus on your studies.

The complex nature of addiction stems from how it changes the wiring and structure of the brain. That change includes how your brain processes information. The way your brain sends and receives data is not the same amid addiction. When trying to understand addiction, it’s helpful to be familiar with how dopamine works. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that communicates between nerve cells. It is essentially a chemical that serves as a messenger between neurons. The release of dopamine influences behavior because it encourages your brain to do certain things that make you feel good. It’s why people continue behaviors they desire to stop, such as eating sweets, smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee.

Dopamine encourages the brain to repeat behaviors that satisfy cravings. The release of dopamine continually decreases the more you act on your cravings, which is why it takes more and more to feel satisfied as time passes.

Impact of Addiction on Your Behavior

Many factors impact a person’s behavior. Common factors are life experiences, family, age, culture, health, beliefs, personality and mental stability. Addiction is another factor that has a tremendous impact on how you behave. The part of your brain affected by addiction is where decision-making, memory and judgment are controlled. As a result, someone with an addiction may not make wise decisions, even when they desire to do the right thing.

An addicted child who starts stealing money from their parents is not making the best decisions. Often parents cannot understand why their child is acting in ways that they have never seen before. The brain of someone with an addiction constantly focuses on stopping the cravings. While addiction does not discriminate and there is no way to predict who will acquire this chronic disease, there are risk factors to consider:

  • Growing up in an environment with drugs and alcohol
  • Having a family member with an addiction
  • Using drugs as a teenager when your brain is developing

You Can Choose to Get Treatment

Making good choices should always be a priority in life. While you don’t have control over how your brain responds when it’s been rewired by substance abuse, you can choose to get addiction treatment. Deciding to get treatment is one of the best things you can do to overcome the many challenges associated with addiction. Some people believe they can overcome addiction on their own through desire and willpower.

While it is possible to achieve success, it usually results in continued addiction or relapse. The support of staff in a sober living home can make a tremendous difference. They can help you develop new habits and behaviors that promote health and wellness. Call us today at 866-963-7200 for information about treatment for addiction to drugs or alcohol. We can provide the guidance and support that you or your loved one needs.

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