What Makes Addiction a Disease?

Learn the facts about what makes addiction a disease.

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, addiction is classified as a disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite the serious health risks and social consequences. Addiction affects areas in the brain that control motivation, learning, judgment, memory and reward. In addition to destroying physical health, it impacts families, relationships, careers, and communities. There are several factors that contribute to what makes addiction a disease. The American Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, as well as other respected and notable medical organizations define addiction as a disease. However, there continues to be an addiction disease or choice debate in the medical field and among those that have been impacted by addiction.

Is addiction a disease or disorder? There is not just one factor that determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs, but instead several that influence potential risk. These factors vary for each individual, however, the more risk factors a person has, the greater their chance of becoming addicted when they take drugs. Here are three factors that influence risk and contribute to what makes addiction a disease and not a disorder, according to theNational Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • This refers to a person’s genetic makeup. It includes an individual’s DNA, gender, ethnicity, and whether any mental disorders are present.
  • The environment in which a person spends most of their time greatly influences their risk of addiction. A person’s environment is made up of their family and friends, economic status, and quality of life. Factors that affect someone’s environment would include peer pressure, abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and the level of parenting they received in their formative years.
  • While genetic predisposition and environmental factors affect a person’s risk for addiction, another contributing factor includes critical developmental stages in a person’s life. The earlier someone starts abusing drugs in their lifetime greatly influences whether the abuse will develop into an addiction. This is especially dangerous for teens. Young adults that are in their teen years have brains that are still in development. The areas of the brain that are responsible for decision-making, judgment, and self control are still developing, making them vulnerable to impulsive behaviors like taking drugs.

There are other arguments that often come up in the addiction disease or choice debate. The majority of medical experts answer the question, “Is addiction a disease or a disorder?” with information that includes additional variables that have helped them classify addiction as a disease:

  • Like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, addiction follows a similar pattern of remission and relapse. Like these diseases, addiction can also be managed and treated.
  • Addiction causes changes within the circuitry of the brain. It creates a physical dependency, and also inhibits a person’s ability to make reasonable decisions in their own best interests. It destroys a person’s ability to control their behavior, making it difficult for someone to stop using drugs on their own. A person who is addicted to drugs cannot simply rely on willpower to stop.
  • What makes addiction a disease has a lot to do with the loss of control a person has in making choices once they have become physically dependent on a substance. While many argue that a person makes the initial choice to use drugs, that’s where the power of choice ends for those who suffer from addiction. No one chooses to become addicted to drugs, nor can they predict how their body and brain will respond to drugs and alcohol. Most people who begin taking drugs recreationally or for chronic conditions such as anxiety or pain are not aware of the risk of physical dependency that can leave them unable to stop using.

The good news is that treatment for drug addiction is effective. Getting sober and maintaining sobriety is possible, especially with the professional help of an inpatient drug addiction rehab facility.  While repeated treatments may be necessary to achieve success, it is possible to beat addiction. Addiction recovery treatment programs use proven methods to help patients regain their abilities and manage cravings so that they can remain drug free long term. With the help and support of family, friends, and peers, the chances of survival and recovery are greater.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.