Understanding Addiction as a Disease

Understanding Addiction as a Disease


Addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for nearly half of the likelihood of developing addiction. Changes occur in the brain and body in addiction which are brought on my risky substance use.  The consequences of untreated addiction can include physical and mental health disorders which require immediate medical attention. Learn more about how substance and drug use changes an individual and the role addiction plays as a devastating disease.


The Brain

Individuals feel pleasure when basic needs are met: hunger, thirst and sex. In most cases, pleasurable feelings are caused by release of certain chemicals in the brain. Most addictive substances can cause the brain to release high levels of the same chemicals associated with pleasure or reward. Continued release of the chemicals causes changes in the brain’s reward, memory and motivation processes. Cravings may continue as the person prefers drugs or alcohol to other healthy life pursuits and loses interest in those activities. Chronic use can lead a person to stop caring about one’s own well-being or even survival. Brain changes remain for a long time, even after substances and drugs are stopped. Individuals with addiction are vulnerable to physical and environmental cues associated with use (triggers) which can increase risk of relapse.


Addiction as a Chronic Disease

A chronic disease is long-lasting and can be controlled, not cured. Approximately 25-50% of people with substance use problems appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. Addiction is progressive which requires intensive treatments and continuous aftercare. The most severe, chronic form of the disorder is manageable and reversible with proper long term treatment and monitoring for support in recovery.


Will Power

Decisions made early on to use substances reflect a person’s free will or conscious choice. Once the brain is changed by addiction, choice or willpower becomes deeply impaired. Perhaps the most defining symptom of addiction is loss of control over substance use. People with addiction are not to blame for suffering from such a devastating disease. All individuals make choices about whether to use substances but lose the power of choice once addiction takes hold of the brain and body. People with addiction can stop using  but it is much harder than for those who have not experienced addiction. Individuals with addiction are responsible for seeking treatment and maintaining recovery. Help will be needed with support family, friends and peers to increase chances of survival.


Critics of Disease Theory

While initial choices to use exist, once the brain is changed by addiction, most experts believe a person loses control of choice over behavior. Others argue addiction is not a disease because some with addiction get better without treatment. People with serious addiction usually need intensive treatment and lifelong management of the disease. Some people can stop without help but usually need help to achieve this goal.


Addiction can be a lethal disease for individuals who are unable to stop without support. The Villa is here to help answer questions and provide support for the journey of recovery. Call us to get started on reclaiming your life from addiction.