When you think of a disease, I’m sure you automatically think of cancer, heart disease, or even diabetes, but do you ever think of drug addiction? Most people don’t.
When someone has heart disease or lung cancer, typically no one blames that person for getting it. When it comes to drug addictions, people are quick to say “Just quit the drug, it’s your choice.” However, once the person is dependent and addicted to the drug it becomes a brain disease making it nearly impossible to “just quit.”
How does drug addiction work?
Addiction is described as being a brain disease that causes compulsive drug use. Addiction starts in the limbic system part of the brain which holds memories and emotions. In the limbic system, there is a part known as the “rewards pathway”, which tells the brain when something feels good, like eating something delicious or having sex which causes you to want to repeat this again. With addiction, the brain will reprioritize the drug telling the person that the drug is necessary for them in order to survive.
How does genetics come into play?
Trying a drug starts off as a choice, but whether or not you get addicted is usually out of the user’s hands. Addiction vulnerability is a very complex topic. There are a few things that can contribute to someone becoming an addict and their genetics is one of them, mainly inherited and environmental factors. According to the American Psychological Association, at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors. Some things that addiction relies on includes the user’s environment, family, response to a drug, and what their expectations are for the drug or alcohol. It has been proven that children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. With genes being a problem for addiction, doctors and scientists have worked on ways to help people who may have those genes. They have started to focus on a drug that can modify that specifical gene. Genetics does not mean that you WILL become an addict, but it does add to the possibility of becoming one.
Addiction is Stigmatized
Drug addiction has always been stigmatized. Even though dictionaries, doctors, and scientists describe it as a brain disease, people still refer to drug addicts in degrading terms such as junkies, crackhead, pothead, stoner, and the list goes on. Drug addiction is looked upon as failing morals or a lack of self-control.
The picture above is a tweet by Jared Padalecki who stars in Supernatural and you may know him from the movie House of Wax. His tweet was directed towards the actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an actor who died from drug addiction. As you can see, Padalecki states that he views the death as “senseless” and “stupid”, which just goes to show how drug addiction is looked down upon and not taken as serious as a heart attack or lung disease.
Treatments On Drug Addiction
Drug addiction can be treated and prevents, but because it is a chronic disease it is not easy. According to Drugabuse.gov most patients need long-term treatment or repeated care. Successful treatments have a few steps which include, detoxification, behavioral counseling, medication, and long-term follow-up so that the person does not relapse.
Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?
This comes back to the underlying question, is drug addiction a disease or a choice? Scientists and researchers claim that it is a brain disease, but what do most people think? In the following video, I asked a few people what they thought, ranging from college students, to parents, and to people who have seen drug addiction first hand.