Is Addiction an Illness?

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

It’s easy to look at someone with an alcohol use disorder and assume they just need to quit drinking. However, researchers have come to the conclusion that substance abuse problems aren’t a sign of moral weakness. Is addiction an illness and, if so, is there a cure?

Is Addiction an Illness?

Doctors agree that addiction is a disease. Therefore, it affects the brain and, by extension, the body. Symptoms include compulsions to use drugs or alcohol which are almost impossible to ignore. Even though substance abusers experience repercussions from using, the cravings are stronger than logical thought.

For example, people who lose relationships because of alcoholism don’t choose to. Instead, they’re utterly incapable of quitting, which leads to tension and strain. Overall, people who lose their jobs because of drug use are often aware that it’s the consequence of substance abuse. However, they’re literally unable to stop.

Addiction affects the brain’s reward center. Drugs typically affect this area, which releases dopamine and similar “feel good” neurotransmitters. Thus, the reward becomes its own motivation, and a person using drugs will do anything for continuing dopamine release. Many drugs rewrite brain chemistry and dopamine release now depends on these chemicals. Consequently, substance abuse finally becomes an addiction.

Is It Curable?

Once you accept addiction as an illness, it makes sense to look for a cure. However, the nature of the condition is chronic and progressive. Thus, just like heart disease and diabetes, there isn’t a cure. That said, treatment is always possible.

At a drug rehab facility, therapists work with clients to overcome cravings. They help people work through triggers and find drug use alternatives when under stress. For example, the methods addiction treatment centers use include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy assists with the recognition of self-destructive patterns in behaviors, thoughts, and feelings
  • Dialectical behavior therapy helps those living with high-stress situations they can’t change
  • Addiction therapy incorporates education with coping skills training to prevent relapse
  • One-on-one psychotherapy makes it possible to understand the root of an addiction
  • Family therapy starts the process of reconnecting individuals with loved ones and building support networks
  • The best drug detox helps you begin your journey to recovery while substance free

What Living with an Addiction in Remission Feels Like

Once you make it through rehab, you’ll have the necessary tools to actively maintain sobriety. Additionally, you’ll live in total abstinence from previous drug use. You’ll also recognize trigger situations and defuse them before you experience cravings again. Fortunately, many program participants have accountability partners that help them through tough situations.

If you’ve ever asked, “is addiction an illness,” you’re probably wondering if you have a problem, or suspect someone you know is using. When you or a loved one is ready to overcome addiction, there’s always help. The therapists at 1st Step Behavioral in Pompano Beach, Florida help you seamlessly transition to drug rehab. You don’t have to continue using. Call (855) 425-4846 for immediate assistance today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.