Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

The great debate regarding whether drug addiction is a disease or a choice can hinder people from seeking treatment. Although it would be great if we knew exactly how or why someone’s addiction starts, the truth is that making it seem like it is all about willpower generates a sense of stigma that can lead to guilt and embarrassment for people who need help. It might not be possible to pinpoint when someone develops an addiction, but it is clear that there are biological mechanisms involved.

Drugs generate changes in the brain that are detectable with scientific testing. The most current understanding of addiction is that the chemicals in drugs alter how the brain responds to certain types of stimulation and experiences. For example, amphetamines and opioids impact the brain’s dopamine receptors. This can cause a person to develop a physical dependency upon drugs that makes it hard to just quit. Alcohol has similar effects, and it is this dependency that drives addiction.

There is a small element of truth to people’s argument that drug addiction is a choice. After all, most people will need to make the choice to try a drug for the first time. Essentially, drug addiction could be eradicated if every person was able to choose not to ever use drugs. Unfortunately, this may not be an option for everyone. Doctors sometimes prescribe Adderall to children who may grow up already physically addicted to a drug. A person might also need to take prescription painkillers to address pain from a recent surgery or chronic health condition. In worst-case scenarios, a person might be slipped a drug without their knowledge at a party. In each of these cases, one might argue that a person didn’t have a choice. This further demonstrates the concept that addiction is a disease that cannot be cured with willpower.

Current research also indicates that there are certain factors that make it more likely for someone to develop an addiction, and many of these have a clear physical basis that aligns with other health conditions such as the following:

  • a family history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • documented or undiagnosed mental health disorders
  • physical sensitives to drugs
  • starting drug use early when the brain is still developing

Treat Your Drug Addiction Like Any Other Health Condition

If you had symptoms of a heart attack, then you likely wouldn’t think twice about seeking medical attention. You would also probably embrace the concept of making long-term lifestyle changes if it helped to extend your life. The same should also be true of dealing with an addiction. Over time, drug addiction has drastically negative impacts upon your health that can include long-term consequences such as heart and liver disease. The sooner you quit using drugs, then the better chances you have of making a full recovery. Even if you have serious health effects left over from your addiction, you’ll still be able to enjoy better health when you quit using drugs.

Addiction treatment programs tend to take the stance that this is a disease that is influenced by the choices that a person makes as they get sober. Right now, you might be struggling with a physical need to use drugs that make it seem impossible to make the choice not to use them. You may have a physical dependency if you have tried to stop using drugs and couldn’t do it. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is another sign that you are dealing with the disease of addiction. While your addiction is no longer controlled by your choices, you still have one final choice to make that influences the rest of your life.

You can still choose to seek treatment. The right type of treatment can help you begin the process of healing just like you would if you had any other type of chronic health condition. However, addiction treatment may differ slightly from what you might receive if you sought help for a heart attack. Professional drug rehab programs typically include treatments that address your mental health issues as well as your physical symptoms. Getting help with your anxiety or depression doubles your chances of success for recovering from an addiction, and participating in therapy puts you back in control of being able to make choices that help you deal with the physical effects of your addiction.

Are you tired of feeling like you lack willpower? You may not be able to quit using drugs without treating the physical effects of addiction. Give our counselors a call at 833-820-2922. We’ll help you find a non-judgmental drug rehab that views addiction as a disease that responds to the right treatments.