“Addiction is a disease!” Have you ever stopped to think whether addiction is truly a disease or just a choice and everyone turns a blind eye? “A disease can be described as a disorder of structure or function that produces specific signs or symptoms, or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of a physical injury.” (1) Addiction is the physical or psychological dependency on a substance. Many people believe addiction is a disease because they truly believe an addiction cannot be stopped on its own and needs some type of treatment due to it being done so frequently. If addiction is labeled under the disease category, it removes all shame and gets people to believe they truly need help and they seek help sooner.
There are different types of addictions such as a physical addiction and a psychological addiction. When one has a physical addiction, it is a physical dependence. They have physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when someone discontinues whichever substance they have been using regularly. When one has a psychological addiction, it is a psychological dependence. They are emotionally attached to their addiction on a mental need for it. Many people suffer from a physical and psychological dependence of food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sexual aspects, and in many cases attention is also an addiction.
Addiction, whether it is physical or psychological, affects the brain. “Addiction causes changes to the brain in at least four fundamental ways: Addiction causes changes to the brain’s natural balance, also known as the homeostasis, alters brain chemistry, changes the brain’s communication patterns, and causes changes to brain structures and their functioning.” (3) Once your brain is affected, so is your body. Once your brain believes it truly needs that substance, your body can break down and begin having withdrawals. Withdrawals symptoms vary depending on the substance you were addicted to, mentally or physically.
When it comes to alcohol, those with an alcohol addiction suffer more critical outcomes than those that abuse alcohol. “Alcohol addiction is paired with a physical dependence on the substance that causes adverse reactions when the individual does not drink.” (2) Individuals that suffer from depression or anxiety are at an increased risk of becoming addicted to alcohol with intentions of just having alcohol as self-medication. Know the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. “Alcohol abuse is a mild to moderate drinking problem that is characterized as problematic drinking that is not accompanied by the presence of physical dependence.” (2) When an individual takes alcohol with other drugs, this can lead to physical and psychological health problems such as depression, cancer, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, elevated blood pressure, and in some cases, overdose.
Individuals with a drug addiction begin taking the drug because they simply enjoy the way the drug makes them feel. It helps them get away from reality, sleep better, and just relax. How many of us just wanted to feel relaxed after a long day and just taking one pill can do that for you? Well, why not? Why can’t we just do that without wondering “what if”? I will tell you why, because you may think you have control of how much and how often you will do this when in reality the drug changes how your brain works over time. You might think, “It’s just one pill” but that one pill overtime makes you lose all your self-control and can lead to drastic measures. The urge of just that “one pill” becomes a daily habit even when you want to quit that habit, you cannot do so now. “Your brain is wired to make you want to repeat experiences that make you feel good so you are motivated to do them again and again.” (4) Over time, your brain begins to build up a tolerance to the drug so you might need to take more and more of the drug to get that same good feeling.
Everything around you begins to get less of your attention, such as family time, food, and friends. They do not bring you the pleasure they once had. The use of drugs affect your judgement, decision making, memory, and ability to learn. All it took to become addicted to drugs was just that one moment of feeling relaxed. Addiction affects people of all ages, ethnicities, intelligence levels, and backgrounds. “Young people, aged 18-24, are more likely to abuse drugs; particularly young men compared to women.” (5) According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk of addiction in general goes up for children of alcoholics or drug addicts. “Children of parents who abused drugs are 45 to 79 percent more likely to abuse drugs themselves than the general population.” (5)
There are four stages of addiction. The first stage is known as experimentation, during this stage the substance may not appear to be abusive. If experimentation continues, patterns of substance abuse may begin to take effect. The second stage is known as social or regular use in which use of the substance typically leads to further and elevated use. Stage three is categorized as problem or risky use in which the substance abuse begins to have effect on a person’s and others’ lives. With continued use of that substance, one falls into stage four commonly known as addiction or dependency of the substance. Once you are addicted to the substance it becomes extremely difficult to control the use of the substance despite the consequences that the use results in.