Addiction is a Disease

Addiction is all around us. It may be that cup of coffee in the morning for the caffeine stimulation, the cigarette that is smoked for the nicotine, or an alcoholic drink used to relieve a stressful day or situation. For some, the addiction may not be to a substance, but to compulsive behaviors such as gambling, playing video games, or shopping. Consequences to addictions can impact an addict’s physical or mental state. Addiction can also have detrimental impact on the people that surround them.

Watching a relationship fall apart because a person has an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or another addictive behavior is a sad thing to happen to anyone. Unfortunately, those with addictions usually won’t admit they even have a problem and that they need treatment until it is too late. Some addictions have less severe consequences, such as addiction to caffeine for the stimulation; others take it to the other end of the spectrum, such as using illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin which completely deteriorates their physical and mental health.

Addiction should be looked at as a disease because it is chronic and does not subside without treatment. Symptoms can be progressive, and just as disease surfaces repeatedly, addiction has a high level of relapse. Furthermore, addiction can be treated. Addiction is a disease whether it is an addiction to substances or certain behaviors. Addiction is a common word known to many, but many don’t realize that addiction is a disease.

“Substance abuse has been conceptualized and generally accepted to be a disease resulting from a biologic vulnerability triggered by a combination of psychological, social, and environmental factors” (Vocaturo 393). Addiction and disease have corresponding definitions. More commonly a disease is thought of as an illness of the body or something we acquire involuntarily such as diabetes, cancer or Alzheimer’s.

“If addiction is truly compulsive and addictive action is not voluntary, then addiction has a much stronger claim to be a disease” (Perring 194). According to, disease is defined as, “a disordered or incorrectly functioning part of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment or any harmful, depraved, or morbid condition, as of the mind or society.” Addiction is a mental disease. According to, addiction is defined as, “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” Behavioral addictions are compulsive actions with examples being gambling, shopping, video gaming, and those with OCD.

“The behavior has an effect of decreasing anxiety and result in a positive mood state or high, similar to substance intoxication” (J.E. Grant et al 234). What happens in the brain during addiction is that the brain learns poor coping mechanism for stressful or unfavorable situations. In the brain, a series of events happen during addiction. Addictions are a coping mechanism which plays a role in the reward system felt in the brain. The brain’s dopamine system transports serotonin, the good feel hormone. Whatever the addiction, it causes a chemical in the brain called dopamine to surpass normal levels which results to feelings of pleasure. “The most integrative and common feature of addictive agents is their capacity to cause psychomotor activation.

This most common feature is seen as forward locomotion which is the unconditional response to positive reinforcement” (Calabrese 599). This then causes the brain to want it over and over again. Although there are different kinds of addiction, all have a common goal: to make a person feel good. This then becomes more important to a person than anything else despite the consequences. The brain then becomes reliant on this false surge in dopamine brought on by the addiction, and the brain’s ability to naturally produce dopamine greatly decreases. This then results in lack of control when the same outcome can no longer be established. This leads to increasing dosage or behavior to try and achieve the same high or to possibly better it. Substance addictions leave the body constantly craving a good feeling despite the consequences they may have.

In order to understand the real mentality of someone with addiction/s is to examine a person in a philosophical and psychological way. All types of addictions should be looked at from a philosophical and psychological point of view. Those in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy often compare their views to show the similarities of addictions whether they be substance induced or behavioral. “Behavioral science experts believe that all entities capable of stimulating a person can be addictive; and whenever a habit changes into an obligation, it can be considered as addiction” (Alaghemandan et al 290). Some addictions can affect people physically. Caffeine and nicotine provide prime examples.

The body’s physical state becomes dependent on its effects and causes withdrawal symptoms without use. One of the main differences in behavioral and substance addictions is that behavioral addictions have no apparent physiological or physical withdrawal symptoms. It is not the physical body that is addicted, but the feeling that one gets mentally. The physical body is only affected by the dependency of the substance itself, while the addiction itself is more damaging psychologically. Addiction isn’t about will power. When looking at addiction for a neurological point of view, there are a series of chemical reactions going on. Dopamine is a good-feel hormone produced in the brain when satisfaction is gained chemically by substances or by a self-gratifying act. When substances such as drugs and alcohol are used or certain behaviors are performed, a person experiences an unnatural high, so to speak, which is many times greater than the natural reward system produced in the brain.

Some individuals may be more susceptible to getting hooked on this feeling. Certain people can be specifically more vulnerable than others to taking on an addiction. The vulnerability to addiction can be due to their genetic dispositions. “With prominent advances in whole genome sequencing, the search for genetic variations underlying drug addiction is continuing at an escalating pace; however, genetic factors likely explain about fifty percent of the risk for addiction” (Maze and Nestor 99). Some believe that one can have an addictive personality. An addictive personality will always be susceptible to having at least one kind of addiction. Quite subsequently, an addictive personality type is addicted to addiction itself. If one addiction was given up, another one would be taken on, moreover, it is commonly found for an addicted person to be addicted to several addictions at the same time. This increases the level of the individual suffering, and no matter what the addiction, it disrupts the brain’s natural reward system, which is the route to a pleasurable feeling.

The addiction itself is the mental state created from taking on any addiction. “Studies have shown that those with behavioral addictions and those with substance use disorders both score high on a self-report measure of impulsivity and sensation-seeking and generally low on measures of harm avoidance” (J.E. Grant Et Al 234). It is extremely hard for a person addicted to a substance or behavior to break the addictive cycle. Getting over addiction is dependent on the type of addiction. Trying to break certain addictions may be simply in avoiding a social environment that may tempt a person towards a certain addiction. Others may benefit from medications and psychological treatment. Research has shown, regardless of whether behavioral or substance addiction, replacing or substituting with a positive beneficial addiction to start learning to associate a positive coping mechanism to the triggers that onset the addiction.

It is difficult to overcome, and an addict is always going want to feel good with an act or substance. While the severity differs between addictions, some are manageable in day to day life, while others have catastrophic effect in their lives which is why addictions should be treated as a disease. There are many attempted treatments that are sought after in breaking addictions. Some people may go to counseling sessions and some go to support meetings which help them realize the adverse effects the addiction has brought into their lives. Behavioral therapy is another way treatment is sought out. In behavioral therapy, the addiction does not need to be specific to one drug or behavior, but is used to address the use of multiple addictions. It is the disease of addiction that the therapy addresses. Other therapies are pharmaceutically administered to relieve the feeling one may get from a substance. Medications are less prescribed with compulsive disorders; however, it is believed that if the addiction was brought on by depression and/or anxiety, prescribing medication can be helpful to alleviate these symptoms. A combination of behavioral therapy and medication has been seen as helpful as well.

Therapy should be an ongoing process for someone with addictions. There will always be triggers that could possibly cause a relapse. There is great difficulty in giving up an addiction without taking on another. Can an addict ever not have an addiction or can it ever be learned to live without addiction? Relapse is the reason addiction is a chronic disease. While some addictions can be tolerated, others unfortunately have detrimental effects on their lives. In order to achieve a successful long term recovery, treatment sought out should address the specifics of each individual’s needs. Changes must occur in one’s life that is physical, social, and psychological in order to be successful in recovery.

“Although different factors will determine someone’s vulnerability to addiction, integrating individual vulnerability to addiction across different research disciplines is likely to provide the greatest advances for intervention and prevention efforts” ( Le Moal and Swendsen 73). But the question still remains, why would someone continue to choose an addiction over their own health? Addiction is an extremely powerful disease. The mind should always overcome the body which is why some people speculate that addiction is a choice and not a disease. However, is addiction really just a choice? “Most of the best-known criticisms of the disease concept have argued that addiction is not a disease because addictive behavior is voluntary” (Perring 194). An exercise addict may dispute the term disease in their addiction. Although their behavior is compulsive, exercise is indeed a very healthy habit to have and does wonders for the body.

An exercise addiction may be healthy; however, those who must exercise each and every day regardless of need, are still exhibiting compulsive behaviors. In their mind this activity must be performed each and every day no matter what. “If you are an exercise addict, it is quite obvious that some of the effects of this particular addiction are positive” (Round Table 7). Exercise is the most contradictory of all the addictions. Mentally they are addicted to the act, but addiction is still a disease, not a choice. There are two areas of the brain that involve choice. The first area is the ventral striatum, or nucleus acumens, which is a structure that motivates a person to go after a goal that they may have or want. This is where addiction and cravings come from.

The second area is called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. This area is what considers consequences of the actions. There are impulses that go from one area to the other through synapses. Triggers can cause alterations of these impulses. They are altered the most by the cycle of addictive thoughts and behaviors. Choice can be thought of as an adaptive process. Brains adapt to our experiences, so the choices that are made change with time. Addiction is an experience to which the brain also adapts, but too rapidly, too thoroughly, and too permanently. Understanding these neural changes is essential for understanding how “choice” gets hijacked by addiction.

That doesn’t make addiction a brain disease. It’s more of corrupted learning process or a nasty adaptation. And like any other adaptation, it is the foundation of the fleshy hardware we carry around in our heads. While it is true that the addict may have a choice in whether or not to use drugs or to give in to behaving a certain way, craving is not a choice. If a craving gets bad enough, even the strongest willed person gives in to their addiction. The brain strives to survive and this cannot be ignored. A big reason why skeptics view addiction as a choice is the inability to truly understand the realness of cravings in addiction. While some may speculate that addiction is a choice, addiction is a disease and should be treated as such. Addiction has many defining terms that correlate to disease. Addiction to substances or behaviors produce uncontrollable cravings to which one cannot ignore. Addiction is extremely hard to overcome for anyone but can be treated with the correct type of therapy much like other diseases. Whether a person is addicted to caffeine, nicotine, drugs, alcohol, gambling, exercise, or any other compulsive behavior, their addiction is a disease.

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