Although classed as an illness of the brain, drug addiction is very often viewed in a poor light. Negative stereotyping of this illness and of those affected usually prevents most people from seeing it for what it actually is. It is not uncommon for those affected by drug addiction to be judged or discriminated against, with many believing that they are weak or bad because they have an addiction. But why is drug addiction called a disease?

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

The word disease also brings about some level of contempt because many view this differently to the word ‘illness’. They see a disease as something that is passed from one person to another and something to be avoided at all costs. However, the definition of disease in the Oxford English Dictionary is:

A disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.

With that in mind, it is easier to understand why drug addiction is often classed as a disease.

How Does Drug Addiction Affect the Individual?

When wondering why is drug addiction called a disease, it is not unusual for people to also think about who is affected by addiction and how it actually affects the person. What is important to remember is the fact that anyone can be affected by this illness if they abuse drugs. That includes abusing both illegal drugs and prescription medication. Despite what most believe, drug addiction does not affect a particular type of person from a specific background. What we do know is that no matter how old a person is, what gender they are, their race, colour, or background, they can all be affected by drug addiction if they allow their use of these substances to spiral out of control.

Drug addiction is classed as a chronic disease or illness of the brain, and the main characteristic is the compulsive need for drugs despite the harmful consequences caused when these are consumed. The reason drug addiction is classed as an illness of the brain is because these chemical substances actually change the way the brain functions over time. Unfortunately, the longer a person abuses drugs, the more the structure of the brain is affected and the more difficult it can be to overcome the illness for good.

Those affected by drug addiction will suffer many negative consequences. This is an illness that can result in poor mental and physical health, as well as lifestyle consequences. It is also a contributing factor in premature death.

The Effects of Drug Addiction

There are many ways in which drug addiction can affect the life of the affected individual. Below are just a few examples:

  • Mental Health – Poor mental health is a common side effect of drug addiction. Chronic depression, anxiety disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, and dementia have all been linked to substance abuse.
  • Physical Health – The effects of drug addiction on physical health typically depend on the type of drug being abused and the length of time the person has been using it. However, some of the physical problems caused by drug addiction include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • Relationships – Relationships with loved ones are almost always affected by drug addiction. Because of the way drug addiction changes the structure of the brain and the way that it functions, the affected individual will be unable to make logical choices. He or she will continue to abuse drugs despite knowing that doing so will cause negative consequences. This can be difficult for loved ones who simply cannot comprehend why their addicted family member is acting in the way that he or she is.
  • Finances – As drugs are not free, it is necessary to have money to fund a drug addiction. In the early days, this may not pose a huge problem, but as time goes by, the individual will become increasingly more dependent on drugs, needing to take more to achieve the desired effect. There is also an impact on the person’s ability to perform well at work, which will affect income levels. All of this can lead to financial struggles. Some individuals will begin borrowing or stealing to fund their addiction, which can lead to even more negative consequences.

Why Is Drug Addiction Called a Disease of the Brain?

As alluded to above, drugs can have a profound effect on the brain and can result in the structure of this organ being altered. The reward circuit in the brain is flooded with the chemical dopamine when drugs are taken, which usually means that the individual will feel a heightened sense of pleasure.

While some people can take drugs recreationally, there are some who will crave these feelings of pleasure and will be motivated to take drugs repeatedly. The more drugs the person takes, the more the brain adapts to the presence of this chemical substance and begins adjusting the production of dopamine. It will make less dopamine as well as reducing the ability of its reward circuit to respond to it.

The effect of this is to reduce the ‘high’ that the person feels when taking drugs. This is known as tolerance, and as the person becomes more desperate to achieve the high when first taking the drug, he or she will begin taking more of it. The more drugs taken, the more likely the affected person is to become physically dependent on it. Long term abuse of drugs can lead to problems with memory, decision making, learning and judgement. It can also affect the individual’s behaviour and his/her stress levels.

What is important to remember is that nobody chooses to become addicted to drugs. They may have chosen to take drugs initially but not everybody who does this will go on to develop an addiction. There are certain factors that make some individuals more prone to addiction. These can include a family history of addiction or mental health, the environment the person grew up in, and their own mental health, but even those with every factor may never go on to develop an addiction.

How to Overcome a Drug Addiction

As with other illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure, for example, drug addiction can be treated. However, it is worth remembering that addiction is not a curable disease at the moment. Those who develop addiction are always going to be prone to relapse unless they work hard to maintain their sobriety.

With professional help from counsellors and therapists, a drug addiction can be overcome. For most people, this will begin with a programme of detoxification that tackles the physical aspect of the illness. Once the bond between substance and user has been broken, the work can begin on tackling the psychological and emotional side effects of addiction. This takes place with therapeutic intervention provided by various organisations such as local support groups, charities, the NHS, and private clinics. For more information on how you can overcome a drug addiction, contact us here at Liberty House Clinic today.