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Why Addiction Is A Disease

by Landmark Recovery

June 21, 2022
A doctor looking at his notes of why addiction is a disease

Published: June 26, 2020 | Updated: June 21, 2022

Addiction is not a crime or weakness

Addiction is not a crime, and it’s not a weakness. Addiction is a disease.

Unfortunately, the close relationship between drugs and crime means that society typically perceives the drug addict as a criminal and believes someone takes drugs because they are immoral. Why should we be so concerned about addiction, though?

While we might still hear of people contracting COVID-19 worldwide, there’s no shortage of Americans dying from drug overdoses every day. The opioid crisis remains present. So much so that more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, and businesses are shelling out millions in lawsuit settlements.

Sadly, Kentucky has not escaped the ongoing crisis. In 2021, Kentucky had more than 2,000 drug overdoses for the first time as a state. First responders and law enforcement handle a high number of people dying from opioid overdose to a point where it’s stretching emergency medical services to a bursting point.

With the cost of addiction and its impact on society enormous, it pays to educate yourself on all facets of addiction even if you’re not currently dependent on any substances.

Before we go any further, we need to define what constitutes a disease.

What is a disease?

A doctor looking at his notes of why addiction is a disease

The American Medical Association defines a disease as a condition that presents as a dysfunction in the body with consistent signs and symptoms that cause harm to the body. A broader definition clarifies that disease is not simply a result of physical injury. The scientific and medical communities both agree almost unanimously that addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a disease and must be treated like one.

Addiction is a condition that impairs normal cognition and distorts thought processes. In fact, people who struggle with severe SUD are so cognitively impaired that they do things to put their lives at risk just to feed their habit. Some argue that addiction is not a disease because you can choose whether to take a drug or not. Sure, choice is a factor, but the issue is far more complex.

Traditionally, substance use disorder would lead someone on a path to incarceration. With the opioid and substance abuse crisis still spinning out of control, it’s become apparent that the country cannot arrest its way out of this crisis.

Addiction is now increasingly viewed as a medical issue — which it is. Substance use disorder is a chronic medical issue, and getting on top of the crisis means treating it as a disease.

Getting to the Root Cause of Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the reward circuit of the brain. People who are addicted to something receive a heightened reward response to that substance.

Addiction is a complicated disease. It takes more than just willpower to overcome a substance use disorder. Genetics plays a role as do mental health disorders and the effects of adverse childhood experiences.

Recovering from a substance use disorder isn’t simply a case of deciding to stop using drugs or alcohol. You need to unravel the root causes of negative thought patterns that could trigger you to discontinue recovery and relapse.

A person in recovery has to learn to navigate their emotions and outwit the tricks their addicted brain plays on them. It’s like a game with a clever opponent who knows your weaknesses and forms strategies on how to outwit you. You have to learn your opponent’s tactics while building energy and remaining vigilant.

For some, the reward system of the brain can make them perceive the temporary, emotional and psychological reward of the substance as greater than the long-term reward of sobriety. They may think, “I can have just one drink,” but every person in active recovery knows that one drink can lead to relapse.

This is the sad nature of addiction, so what can we do about it?

Recovering From the Disease of Addiction

A woman talking to her therapist about her addiction

Many people are born with a propensity to become addicted to substances. This is due to the primitive reward circuitry in the brain. Some people are genetically wired to receive higher rewards to certain substances than others. This partially explains why it’s easy for some to give up smoking while seemingly impossible for others.

Opioid Workforce Act

The best way to heal addiction today is to use a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and support from peer groups. In 2021, The United States Senate the Opioid Workforce Act. The aim is to fill the shortage of trained addiction doctors and treatment facilities in order to reduce the number of people suffering from SUD.

More than 21 million Americans struggle with SUD. As recently as 2018, only 11% received professional treatment. This means that nearly 90% of people with SUD continue to use drugs and/or alcohol rather than try to overcome their addiction.

The Opioid Workforce Act is meant to make treatment available for anyone battling SUDs.

Barriers to Addiction Treatment

Sadly, as addiction is often so closely related to crime, people are afraid to seek treatment because of the stigma. If the perception of addiction could shift to a more rehabilitative approach, people would be more likely to reach out for help and start their healing journey.

Many people are thrown into jail, detox, and are then released, only to get straight back on drugs at the first opportunity. Recovery doesn’t end with detox. This level of care is just the first tentative step to lasting recovery.

Substance use disorder is a chronic, lifelong disease that must be managed and closely monitored by the person struggling themselves, their loved ones, and healthcare providers. Recovery requires an environment that fosters honesty and openness.

Peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are proven to help people stick to a successful recovery. When people can talk openly and freely, and feel supported in their recovery, it strengthens their resolve to stay sober.

A positive mindset is absolutely vital, too. Negativity from stigma and judgment is not helpful to anyone experiencing co-occurring mental health disorders of any kind. Showing kindness, compassion, and empathy to someone experiencing mental distress can mean the difference between relapse and recovery.

Addiction now affects the whole community. It’s no longer something that happens to someone else. This is why attitudes must continue changing if we want to see our communities heal from this epidemic.

Hopefully, in the future, everyone with a substance use disorder will be able to gain access to quality affordable treatment so they can live productive and happy lives. That’s not too much to ask, but we have a long way to go.

The Next Step is Addiction Treatment

Here at Landmark Recovery, we acknowleged that addiction is a disease and we’re here to help you to achieve long-term recovery.

Whether you need residential treatment or an intensive outpatient program to get back on track, call one of our recovery specialists today at 888-448-0302.

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