Addiction is a Disease

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Addiction is often not a choice. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavior problem. The disease model of addiction focuses on changes in the brain that occur with chemical dependency. People argue that addiction is not a disease, and rather is a choice, because it is caused by the person’s choice to use drugs or alcohol. That is only true for the first time.

            So why do some people become addicted, while others can take it or leave it? Addiction is genetic. If addiction runs in your family, scientists say that your brain chemistry will change upon introduction. Once the brain has been chemically changed, or altered, by addiction, experts believe that the person loses the power of choice and control of the behavior.

            For an individual suffering from drug addiction, the drugs tap into the brain’s communication system and interfere with the way neurons normally send, receive and process information. Some drugs, like marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics a natural neurotransmitter. It fools the receptors and allows the drugs to attach and activate the neurons. Because they do not activate the neurons the same way natural neurotransmitters do, it leads to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network. Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, cause the neurons to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. The disruption produces a strong, amplified message, and disrupts the communication channels. Drugs target the brain’s reward center, and flood the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine regulates movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. When activated at normal levels, the system rewards our natural behaviors. When we over stimulate the system with drugs, a euphoric effect emerges, which strongly reinforces the behavior of drug use, teaching the user to repeat it.

            Drugs and alcohol are not the only substances that an individual can be addicted to. A person can be addicted to a range of things, including exercise and food, because of the euphoric effects it has on the brain. Addicts build a tolerance to whatever they are addicted to, so they need more and more to feel the same effect, which can be deadly.