Understanding Addiction: Nature Vs. Nurture

Our online recovery community talks a lot about heroin and drug addiction and covers many topics related to it.  But how many of you really and fully understand drug addiction?  How does one become an addict?  Is being addicted to a mind-altering substance like heroin the same as being addicted to gambling?  Is addiction genetic or is it the environment that initiates the onset of addiction?  Is addiction curable?  Do addicts have a choice not to use?  This article is an attempt to fully explain drug addiction in a way that’s easy to understand for everyone.

What Exactly Is Addiction?

Understanding Addiction: Nature Vs. NurtureDespite all the information available on this heroin addiction and recovery website and online, many still think addiction is a choice.  People who use drugs choose to use them so we must also choose to be an addict right?  Well, one thing I’ve learned during my research and by starting this blog is that most people who believe addiction is a choice don’t distinguish addiction and ongoing drug use.  Thus, to the “addiction is a choice” believer, addiction and perpetual drug abuse are the same thing.  After all, those who suffer from a substance-use disorder do continuously use drugs.  But does that mean they’re the same?

Addiction has been declared and classified a disease by the American Medical Association (AMA), the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other well respected medical associations and organizations.  While ongoing drug use is an action associated with the disease of addiction, it’s not the same thing.

Our community defines addiction as a disease that chemically and structurally alters the brain.  It’s characterized by a ubiquitous connection and a cognitive compulsion to perpetually use a mind-altering substance or continuously engage in risky behavior.  The object of addiction varies, but addiction is the actual attachment our mind forms to the feeling the object creates.  Drugs typically create a feeling of euphoria while engaging in risky behaviors and activity produces a rush.  To the addict, the feeling is so powerful, that it dominates and consumes their thoughts.  Behaviors and actions of perpetual use or engagement are symptoms that follow.

Do Addicts Have a Choice To Use or Not To Use?

Is Addiction a Choice?Ok, so if addiction is a disease and ongoing drug use or engagement in risky behavior is a symptom, doesn’t that take choice out of the equation?  Do addicts have to continue using and what happens if they try to stop?  If you think about symptoms associated with other diseases, they can be treated and stopped.  A stuffy or runny nose associated with the flue can be cleared by blowing your nose or using medicine.  A headache associated with a fever can be stopped with medicine, rest or a warm compress placed over the forehead.

Ongoing drug use is a symptom of addiction but the addict always has a choice.   To the addict, the compulsion may be so strong that it feels like the only choice is to use.  In fact, the only way to satisfy the craving is to indulge or engage in the object of addiction.  However, as difficult as it can be, an addict can choose not to engage in drug use and resist the compulsion.  Engaging in drug use will definitely satisfy the craving temporarily but it will always return.  Resisting it may not satisfy the craving in the moment, but it will weaken it long-term.

If fighting the compulsion associated with addiction by resisting drug use wasn’t already hard enough, a drug user can become physically dependent on a substance so that stopping will produce withdrawal symptoms, some of which are quite horrible to go through – such as heroin withdrawal.  See “Addiction Vs. Dependence: What is the Difference?”  Thus, many drug addicts have a very difficult time conquering addiction, even with help.  Sadly, the probability of addicts who succeed in long-term recovery is only approximately 50%.

Addiction: Nature Vs. Nature

Understanding Addiction: Nature Vs. NurtureAddiction is complicated, but it’s onset is both partly genetic and due to environment.  While a specific gene or genes haven’t been identified, studies suggest that those who suffer from the disease of addiction posses a genetic predisposition.  This in part, explains why two individuals, about the same age, height and weight can use a similar quantity of the same drug and only one becomes addicted.  The theory therefore, is that only those with a genetic predisposition will actually suffer from the disease of addiction.  Others may continue using drugs for awhile but will have an easier time quitting.

Nurture, environment and life-choices also play a role in the onset of addiction.  For example, if you never engage in drug use, despite any genetic predisposition, you’ll never become addicted to drugs.  But those with a genetic predisposition may have what’s referred to as an “addictive personality” and become over-indulgent in other things.  For example, even before I ever used heroin or other drugs, I’d always find something to “obsess” over and indulge in.  For awhile, it was working out and getting unbelievably fit.  At other times, it was writing.  My addictive personality could be seen in how I’d eat the same food every day until I was sick to death of it.  If I liked something a lot, I’d indulge in it for as long as it took for my brain to get tired of it.  But with drugs, because of its intoxicating nature, I never became sick of it.  What I did become sick and tired of however, was being sick and tired – and of course, the consequences of ongoing drug use.

Is Addiction Curable?  Is it at Least Treatable?

While there’s no cure for addiction, the good news is, its treatable.  By stopping drug use and ceasing engagement in risky behaviors the powerful urges and cravings are reduced and the brain begins to repair itself.  But addiction treatment is often necessary to help you resist urges, develop life-skills, create alternative coping mechanisms and become whole and healthy again.  The probability of success is much greater for those who’ve gotten help at top drug rehab facilities or gotten some kind of professional help.

Need addiction Help?

Our online community helps men and women suffering from drug and heroin addiction who are sick and tired of being slaves to addiction get the help and treatment they want, need and deserve.  For those ready for a chance, fill out our brief treatment contact form.


Written by William Charles, Owner / Publisher of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)

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