Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

Last Updated: Feb 24th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

The question, “Is drug addiction a disease?”, is a relevant one. Although most medical groups and researchers say that it is, some people debate it. It’s a mistake to think that drug use is the result of poor morals or willpower. Learn more about what makes drug addiction a disease to gain a better understanding of how and why it happens.

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

Drug addiction is a complex disease that causes individuals to compulsively use one or more drugs. It’s the result of a combination of behavioral, biological and environmental factors.

Most people start using drugs of their own free will, whether it be alcohol, heroin or something in between. However, some individuals develop addictions to drugs that their doctors prescribe. Repeat and long-term use of all addictive drugs lead to chemical changes in the brain that can cause addiction.

The chemical changes in the brain affect its motivation and reward system and cause serious damage to health and relationships. This makes it hard for people to quit using even when they want to. As a result, many must seek treatment.

When the changes in the brain persist, it’s hard for people in recovery to remain sober. This doesn’t mean that the treatment didn’t work. Recovery is a lifelong commitment that requires constant addiction management.

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Most drugs affect the brain by stimulating the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure. Excessive amounts of dopamine create the high that people feel when they take drugs and make them want to take more.

The brain adjusts to the high levels of dopamine. Then it either makes less of it or reduces the ability of the cells to respond. This lessens the effects, so users have to take higher amounts of the drugs to achieve the same pleasure.

Drug addiction can cause stress and change how users behave. The chemical changes can also affect brain functions such as:

  • Judgment
  • Learning
  • Making decisions
  • Memory

Why Do Some People Argue That Addiction Is a Disease?

Some people argue that drug addiction isn’t a disease because people choose to use alcohol or drugs. Although the first or early use could be voluntary, continued use is the result of chemical changes in the brain.

Additionally, choice doesn’t decide what is and isn’t a disease. Diabetes and heart disease, for example, may involve personal diet and exercise choices. These diseases are the result of people’s choices just like drug addiction, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re diseases.

Other people say that drug addiction isn’t a disease because treatment isn’t always necessary for recovery. Although people with mild addictions might not need help, those with serious addictions typically need intensive treatment.

Drug Addiction Treatment at 1st Step Behavioral Health

It’s not safe for individuals to try to stop taking drugs on their own because of how addiction changes the brain. They need to seek treatment to protect their well-being and learn how to manage the disease. The staff at 1st Step Behavioral Health offers the help that they need.

Since mental health disorders can develop alongside substance abuse, 1st Step Behavioral Health is prepared for this as well. The staff is trained to address addiction and other mental health disorders such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Now that you know the answer to “is drug addiction a disease?”, you’re prepared to get the help you need. Don’t let drug addiction completely change who you are. You can defeat the disease by getting help from a quality rehab clinic. Call 1st Step Behavioral Health at (866) 319-6126 to begin your recovery.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician 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.