Understanding that addiction is a disease is often a hard concept to accept, even for the person suffering from the disease. So many say that addiction is a choice, not a disease. But as the American Medical Association (AMA) and other well respected medical associations have discovered, addiction possesses many characteristics similar to other diseases. For example, nobody argues that diabetes is a disease. But despite the fact that many still argue that addiction is a choice, addiction and diabetes are acquired and responded to in very similar ways. Below, we compare the two and explain how the disease of addiction works and why getting addiction help and treatment is crucial.
Diabetes Type 2
Type 2 Diabetes usually occurs when the patient chooses to eat unhealthy food and doesn’t exercise enough. As the patient gains weight, their bodies develop problems processing sugar the way it used to or the way it should. In the end, their bodies struggle to process sugar at all, and they often need insulin.
Men and women with the disease of diabetes often struggle to follow the advice of their doctors to follow a strict diabetic diet. They will cheat quite regularly. This is a diabetic relapse. Unfortunately, some of these patients find it so difficult to follow doctors orders that they end up losing limbs, eyesight or even dying.
Why would this happen? All they have to do is change their diet and exercise right? And how does this compare to addiction?
The Disease of Addiction
The onset of the disease of addiction can occur at any age but typically occurs when an individual is young. That’s when most experiment with alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. When an individual with a genetic predisposition to addiction uses a particular drug and it touches the pleasure center of the brain a certain way, it creates the disease of addiction, resulting in powerful urges that make using drugs seem irresistible. Here’s why.
All people naturally produce the neurohormone called dopamine. Anytime we do something rewarding, the brain releases dopamine into our systems. This is part of our survival instincts. So after experiencing a great meal, dopamine is released. That “feeling” is programmed in the brain and remembered subconsciously. Thus, the same individual will return for that meal again. Sex also releases dopamine so that individuals have an instinct to mate and procreate.
The average person who uses drugs will experience an increase in dopamine levels creating a feeling of euphoria, typically called a “high”. When the high wears off, dopamine levels go back to normal. Someone with a genetic predisposition to addiction typically possesses lower dopamine levels. Thus, when this individual uses drugs and it touches the pleasure center of the brain in a way to trigger its onset, dopamine levels will increase just like the average person creating the same feeling of euphoria but afterwards, dopamine levels dip down even lower creating stress, depression and irritability. The urge to use drugs increases substantially making them seem irresistible.
The Addict Vs. The Non-Addict and More on Dopamine
Individuals possess varying levels of dopamine. People who don’t develop the disease of addiction after their first experiment with substances typically possess a higher natural dopamine level than those who do develop the disease of addiction. The average level is about 80 for dopamine. People who experience addiction are naturally at a level of anywhere from 40 to 50. Everyone has that friend who is always somewhat sad and “lower” than everyone else. They aren’t negative, but it is clear that they aren’t naturally as happy. It’s often seen in family settings where one sibling is a little different than the others.
So when individuals who are susceptible to addiction and possess lower dopamine levels try a drink or a drug that significantly increases dopamine levels, they go from feeling terrible to great compared to the average person who goes from normal to great. This creates the compulsion and urge to want more and more.
An addict will often struggle to follow their doctor’s orders to stop using these substances and often will relapse off and on when seeking drug treatment. Unfortunately, some individuals find it so difficult that the disease will often land them in jail, with many different physical ailments or even death.
Most Diseases Start With Choice
Addiction is like most diseases. Most start with some choice, whether it’s lung disease which is usually from smoking. Heart Disease is usually from poor eating and lack of exercise. In twenty years people will look back at the way people with addiction were treated and compare it to bloodletting (the violent killing and wounding of people during a war or conflict). It’s that wrong to treat anyone who has a disease as being shameful. The American Medical Association has declared addiction a disease. Thus, individuals, groups and certainly the law need to treat it as a disease. Right now, this is simply not the case and this needs to change.
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Written by William Charles for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)
We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.
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