Drug addiction is painful enough without people questioning the nature of the struggle that you, or your loved one, face. How many times have you heard “Why don’t you just quit?” Many drug addicts would – “just quit,” that is – if it were truly so easy. After all, drug addiction is an intensely painful circumstance that drives wedges between loved ones and drastically impacts the health of the sufferer.
The reality is that addiction is a disease as pernicious and stubborn as any other. Just ask the American Medical Association or the American Society of Addiction Medicine– they both define addiction as a disease, alongside many other medical institutions.
Drug Addiction Changes Brain Chemistry
The fact is, drug addiction literally changes the brain’s chemistry. In a normal brain, the reward center is activated whenever you fulfill a need, such as hunger or sex. This ensures that you will continue to perform these life-sustaining activities – without even really needing to think about it. Your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel good, and the memory center is activated to remember the conditions of what you just did so that the reward can be replicated in the future.
The problem is that drugs activate this same reward pathway, but with much greater intensity, causing your brain to release anywhere from two to 10 times the dopamine released for more natural rewards (like eating or having sex). Nothing in your natural life can compete with this, and yet your brain is desperate to repeat the dopamine rush. In this way, drug addicts slowly lose control over their agency and are swept up in the natural instinct to continue the same behavior.
Diminishing Returns & Unintended Side Effects
Sadly, the more a person abuses drugs, the more difficult it becomes to quit. Your brain struggles to adjust to the surges of dopamine, meaning that it either reduces its production of dopamine or limits the number of receptors that can receive signals. Essentially, this reduced natural dopamine production means that drug users have a harder and harder time feeling pleasure the way they used to – and they become increasingly reliant on drugs even just to feel normal.
When you look at addiction this way, it is easy to see why it’s classified as a disease: willpower becomes irrelevant when your brain is just fighting to maintain its natural stasis. It explains why addicts will ignore the often serious consequences of drug use – both for their health and their social lives – abandoning all for the next hit.
Some may argue that a drug addict made the initial choice to use. However, can’t the same be said for a range of other diseases brought on, in large part, by an individual’s decisions? For example, diseases such as diabetes and heart disease can be triggered not only by genetics, but also through unhealthy eating habits. Drug addiction is really not so dissimilar. Those addicted to drugs, and the families and friends who love them, deserve a world in which drug addiction isn’t treated with stigma, but recognized for the painful disease that it is.
Seek Drug Addiction Treatment
But diseases have treatments, and addiction is no exception. Through rehab, detox, counseling and other programs, drug addicts can find a path to recovery and tools to help them avoid the cues that trigger relapse. Call the Crosby Clinic at (760) 751-1234 today for more information about our treatments and how we can help you or your loved overcome addiction and learn to enjoy life again.
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