Posted on Sep 12, 2022, 4 p.m.
Arguments centered around substance use disorder (SUD) normally gravitate toward one of two extremes. On the one hand, addiction is viewed as a willful action that unnecessarily affects others negatively and even in dangerous ways. This view calls for swift legislation to protect ourselves and others.
On the other hand, addiction is considered a topic that should call for our full empathy and compassion toward others who struggle with it. This view is in favor of expanding drug decriminalization efforts. But does either view really get to the heart of the issue? Here’s how to develop a balanced approach to this problem of addiction by starting with a correct definition: Addiction is a disease.
The 19th century was a tipping point for how we understand the scope of disease today. This era of human history is the foundation of modern medicine. This was the time of vaccines created during the U.S. Industrial Revolution, rapid economic growth, germ theory, and all kinds of other progressions in the way we understand the health industry. Part of that trajectory in the development of understanding disease today is its relation to addiction. Today, modern medicine understands drugs and alcohol-related addiction to be a brain disease. Like other chronic illnesses such as asthma, hypertension, and diabetes, drug addiction involves long-term medical treatment.
With that said, scientists as recent as the 1930s believed that addiction was an issue limited to moral flaws and inadequate willpower. However, the focus on connecting addiction and the brain has changed these previous conceptions. Substance abuse can include anything from alcohol to prescription medications to illicit drugs sold on the street. The reason for this does not downplay the various differences these drugs have when compared to each other. Instead, they include the common effect that drugs have on the brain. In fact, it is not enough to say that addiction is a disease. It must be stressed that addiction is a brain disease. While this sounds like a very strong statement (it is), it speaks to the fact that addiction is a complete rewiring of the brain’s reward system.
How Addiction Affects Others
The reason addiction can easily affect other people is that the brain’s reward system is closely tied to memory, learning, motivation, behaviors, and mood. When we interact with people who have an addiction, we commonly see these aspects of the brain’s reward system affected. While we should not downplay the severity of abuse and even violence that unfortunately accompanies addiction, we should understand the reason these things occur is that substance abuse compromises and rewires the brain.
Admittedly, some substance use disorders are more directly related to violence and physical abuse than others because of the substance’s nature. However, each instance of addiction shares a common symptom of the nature of the disease.
Helping Those Who Struggle With Addiction
After understanding the complexity of addiction, we can see that either expanding or eliminating drug and substance use laws never solves the problem. They might help us navigate the aftermath of addiction, but they won’t solve the problem of addiction. If we stick with the definition that addiction is a disease, we’re led to a better solution: promoting intervention and treatment.
This makes perfect sense when we think about other diseases. We understand that they must be addressed with treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, remember that it is a brain disease that must be treated.
If we keep this in mind, we’ll have the best chance of keeping our focus on the solution, and we’ll be able to provide better support to a friend or family member who has the disease.
This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
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