Why is addiction considered a disease and not a compulsion?

The topic of whether addiction is a disease or compulsion is sometimes debated because there are some medical professionals that consider it a disease, while others consider it a compulsive disorder. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case and there will probably always be debates concerning this topic. However, it’s worth noting that the majority of medical professionals understand that addiction is a disease. One of the reasons why it was called an addiction more frequently in the past is because it was hard to identify the place in the brain where a defect related to addiction existed. The reason why this is important is because a defect is necessary for it to be considered a disease. This is much like classifying any other condition as a disease when you’re able to use medical equipment, like an x-ray machine, to pinpoint where the disease exists. In the past, the conclusion was that addiction is simply based on irresponsibility and behaviors that are intrinsic. Some argued that addiction was based on choices made.

Now that a lot more is known about how the brain works, what was previously believed is no longer an assertion in most medical communities. Why? Because studies of the brain have revealed that there is in fact a physical defect that’s linked to addiction. There is actually scientific evidence that the hedonic system in the brain contributes to addiction. Since this is a physical attribute, addiction can now be considered a disease as opposed to a compulsive disorder. Specifically, when someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they actually crave the substance. While it is true that a choice can be made about whether or not to use it, a choice cannot be made about craving a substance. Another reason why there has been a change in thinking concerning addiction is because there are other diseases that are exacerbated by choice. For instance, while no one would choose to have diabetes, they can make a lifestyle choice that minimize the risk of the disease.

What You Should Know About Addiction as a Disease 

Studies of the brain have revealed that addiction is, in fact, a brain disease that’s marked by an altered brain structure and abnormal brain function. As a result of these abnormalities, addiction occurs when exposure is consistent. In other words, it’s not just about choice or habit. Instead, it has valid origins that are biological, genetic, neurological and environmental. As a result of these origins, addiction can be life-threatening when it isn’t treated. This is no different than other diseases that can increase a person’s mortality rate. Alcohol or drug addiction as a disease is much like heart disease or any other chronic condition that occurs with a higher level of frequency because it runs in the family or because of the other origins mentioned. There is often a misunderstanding about how a person becomes addicted to drugs. Instead of recognizing how the brain impacts addiction, many people see it as an issue of discipline, or lack thereof. Quite the opposite is true since addiction usually cannot be resolved by sheer willpower.

One way to get a grasp on why addiction is considered a disease and not a compulsion is by understanding the different ways in which it changes a person’s brain. Generally, drugs alter the way the brain receives and processes information. This happens because the reward circuit in the brain is over-stimulated. As a result, specific functions that are performed by the brain have changed, which can reduce a person’s ability to sustain life. The following areas of the brain are most often impacted by addiction:

  • Cerebral cortex
  • Brain stem
  • Limbic system

One of the most critical aspects of addiction to understand is that it does, in fact, change the structure of the brain. This is why you might start out making the decision to use drugs voluntarily, but later on, it becomes involuntary. In fact, changes in the brain can result in difficulty controlling behavior, elevated cravings, and impaired ability to recognize serious problems and emotional dysfunction that causes overreactions. These are all examples of why addiction is a disease and not a compulsion. It\’s also why the issue is not as hotly debated as it was in the past.

If you want to get a better understanding of addiction, we’re here to answer your questions or provide you with the guidance you need. Give us a call at 833-820-2922 for more information about addiction.

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