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Addiction: Choice or Disease?

Posted by arizonarecover on February 2, 2020

Growing up, most of us were raised to believe addiction was a conscious choice that people make for themselves. We were brought up to view addicts as people miscreants, people we should not associate or even sympathize with. However, what if we told you that there is more to addiction than we originally thought? That’s right, the idea that addiction is a choice that most of us were raised to believe couldn’t be further from the truth. What most people do not realize that addiction is not a choice, but, rather, a disease. You may be asking yourself, “How can addiction be a disease? Doesn’t someone have to make the conscious decision to use drugs or alcohol, making it a choice?” In this article, we’re going to help answer your questions and help provide you with some information on addiction as a disease, not a choice.

Explaining The Process of Addiction

To better help you understand why addiction is a disease, let us walk you through the process of addiction. When you are able to understand how addiction works, you will be able to see why it much more than a choice. Let us explain:

Phase #1: Initial Use

The first stage in the process of addiction is initial use. Initial use happens when a person first decides to give in to temptation and use drugs or alcohol. This can be due to things curiosity or peer pressure. Whatever the reason may be, the initial decision to use a substance can increase a person’s likelihood to develop an addiction/dependence.

Phase #2: Regular Use

During this stage, a person’s curiosity or the peer pressure they are experiencing has gotten the better of them and has caused them to use drugs or alcohol more frequently. The substance of choice starts to become more important to the person as they start to develop signs of dependency.

Phase #3: Risky Use

When a person starts to use substances in a risky manner, that’s when addition really starts to take shape. Someone struggling with addiction may start to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in situations where it would normally be unacceptable (driving, social events with no alcohol, at school, etc.)

Phase #4: Dependence

At this point, the person has become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol. They have used their substance of choice often enough to where they could start to show signs of withdrawal if they minimize or even cease habitual use. This is also the stage where we start to see people develop a tolerance to drugs or alcohol, making it harder for them to get the desired effects with smaller doses. 

Phase #5: Substance Abuse Disorder

Finally, after a person develops a tolerance and dependence, they will continue to increase the dosage of their substance and eventually wind up with a substance abuse disorder. This is when a person starts to feel as though they cannot function normally without drugs or alcohol, making it nearly impossible for them to go a day without being under the influence. They start to disregard important parts of their lives, making their substance of choice top priority. 

The Science Behind Addiction

Now that we have explained the process of addiction, let’s explain how addiction works in a person’s mind. The brain plays a key role in the development of addiction, something that most of us fail to recognize. Without the scientific data that has been presented to us over the years, we would all still believe that addiction is just a conscious decision to abuse substances. Now, we know better.

When a person takes drugs or alcohol, they experience a sense of euphoria. When people are under the influence of a substance, they tend to be more excitable, happy, and talkative. This is all due to the euphoric effects that are brought about through the ingestion of drugs/alcohol. This euphoria comes about through the brain’s reward system, which tells us whether or not an action we perform benefits us. When we perform a ‘rewarding’ activity, a chemical called dopamine rushes to our brain to essentially tell us, “good job!” and helps us feel an overall sense of happiness. 

Unfortunately, this is an artificial happiness. Yes, the happiness a person experiences while under the influence is intense, but it can be addicting. It is so intense that it essentially encourages a person to repeat that action which, if left unchecked, can result in addiction. Normally, our brain helps us repeat healthy behaviors like working out, talking with friends, having sex, eating food, etc. The rush of dopamine a person experiences while under the influence of drugs or alcohol only reinforces unhealthy behaviors. Repeating this sort of behavior can only result in serious negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health. So why doesn’t a person just stop?

Stopping: Easier Said Than Done

As we mentioned, a person gets a rush of euphoria and dopamine while under the influence, resulting in the brain’s reward system kicking in. With that in mind, it’s easier to understand why a person would have such a hard time stopping habitual substance abuse. If a person’s brain is telling them that what they’re doing is beneficial for them, it’s going to be hard to stop that behavior. Imagine trying to stop talking to your friends, it would be extremely difficult, right? Because our brain tells us what to do, it would be hard to disobey it. 

When a person tries to stop substance use, their brain is going to try and tell them that what they’re doing is wrong, which is where withdrawal comes in. Withdrawal can be overwhelmingly painful for a person to deal with which is why we often see people relapse when they try and cut out substances cold-turkey. Imagine how difficult it would be to not only stop a habit that your brain tells you is rewarding but a habit that your brain actively fights to get you to repeat. We hope that by reading this article you are able to better understand addiction and why it is not simply a ‘choice’, there is much more to this kind of problem than we often think.