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Is Addiction a Disease?
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Is Addiction a Disease?

I've seen a lot of debate on this topic recently and was just wondering how many people had opinions on this. There are a lot of percieved positives and negatives to accepting addiction as a disease, and vice-versa. No one likes to think they are bodily or mentally different from others, and considering addiction a 'chronic disease' carries certain stigma. I remember thinking when I first got clean, "even if I never use drugs again I'll still be an addict?" It didn't make much sense to me.

I've sense got a little perspective on the concept with the help of one of the top addictionologists in Tx, who also happens to be director of the Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center. This is what he told me: In the human brain there are pleasure centers that are affected by the use of alcohol and drugs. Once a person crosses the threshold of addiction, the pleasure centers are irreversibly changed. They go from looking (on a brain scan) like closed rose buds into looking like open flowers. He told me that currently, science has not been able to achieve a medical "cure" for this, and this is why no matter how long we are sober, the moment we take another drink or drug, we are right back where we left off. There is no more "normal drinking" to be had. All of this has been proven, he told me, in many studies and medical journals and such.

TO ME, I feel like because I can admit and accept that I have a 'chronic disease' is liberating, not condeming. Had it not been a disease that kept me out for so long, it would mean that my addiction was just "me doing what I want". But at some point I wanted to stop, but couldn't. So I know it had to be something deeper.

So what do you think? Is it a disease that can be arrested? or is it cureable?
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Avatar_m_tn
It can be arrested.  Sober addicts have proven that.  Cured?  Not with current knowledge of the brain and its chemistry.  Once that pleasure center has been changed, nothing known now can change it back.  Abstinence is the only path that assures the addiction does not rule the day and your life again.
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39 Comments Post a Comment
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Avatar_f_tn
I do think of it somewhat as a mental illness, so yes you could call it a disease. But I think just like any mental illness, it can be treated, in fact probably easier than other mental illness as drug abuse is self-inflicted.
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Avatar_m_tn
It can be arrested.  Sober addicts have proven that.  Cured?  Not with current knowledge of the brain and its chemistry.  Once that pleasure center has been changed, nothing known now can change it back.  Abstinence is the only path that assures the addiction does not rule the day and your life again.
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Avatar_m_tn
There has been very interesting research recently regarding memory and tramatic events.  Scientist have been able to disconnect the stored memory from the anxiety and other negative effects of the incident.  The memories are still there but the association with the anxiety is gone.  This has very interesting implications for the treatment of addictions.
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Avatar_f_tn
I accept the concept that addiction is a disease because it fits the criteria for terminal illness. However,I believe it can be arrested at any stage in it's progression. At the moment,I don't agree with the brain scan/rosebud example. I'll have to research that because I don't think you can differentiate between an addicted brain vs non addicted brain by scan.  I don't like to think our brains are permanently damaged but that's just me. I'd rather think a positive thought than a negative one.
The concept makes no difference to me either way. I don't need a disease diagnosis to make me feel better about my choices.  I took pills because I wanted to and I stopped because I wanted to. To me,it's just that simple.

Vicki
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725350_tn?1318684068
I dont so much use the disease concept to feel better about my choices, but I think it more fully explains what was going on. Sometimes I want to go see a movie and sometimes I go, but I dont have physiological withdrawal and complete obsession of the mind if I dont. so for me, it was something deeper than just the desire to use.

And while irreversible brain damage is done every time we drink or use drugs in excess, the rosebud example is one of brain change, not brain damage. I dont really see it as negative thinking, more like realistic thinking.
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199177_tn?1332183097
There is definite brain changes. I have seen a few programs showing the differences .My opinion I have always leaned toward it being a mental illness . I think understanding addiction and the effects it has on the brain can be very helpful ,I also think there is an element of choice involved with using the brain may be responsible for the craving but we are responsible for what we do about them
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Avatar_m_tn
I very much support your personal responsibliity approach to your usage.  " I took the pills becasue I wanted to and I stopped because I wanted to".  And I understand your reluctance to believe that you may have permanently changed your brain chemistry, but for virtually everyone who has developed a dependency on a particular drug, it is in fact true that the physical condition of your neural pathways has changed.  In others words, our brains have been physically changed by our usage.
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Avatar_f_tn
Pillguy~

LOL  Okay...our brains are changed by our drug usage. I accept it. Our brains change  during the aging process and they change after longterm exposure to inhaled and consumed chemicals in our environment,as well. I accept it all.
Frankly,I misread the original post regarding change as I took it to mean damage.

H.~ This is a good post.
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Avatar_m_tn
Robin Williams was sober for 20 years before gradual alcohol usage put him back in rehab for 2 months.  For most of us, the struggle is forever.  
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Avatar_f_tn
Pillguy~  Yes, I believe that is true.
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199177_tn?1332183097
unfortunately some drugs do cause brains damage first one that comes to mind is methanphedime.It so addicting and been known to cause damage .There are some doctor that think with time some of the damage can be repaired ,
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1251923_tn?1269773880
I guess diabetes is a disease, type 2 caused by diet eating wrong, why not an addiction both kind of are inflicted, but still diseases..! Addiction is chronic can die just like diabetes.
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Avatar_f_tn
The brain changes because the drugs must alter the chemicals in your brain/body. That's why you get high and develop a co-dependency and you do open yourself up to whatever genetic pre-disposition you may have. Or maybe you were born with a mental illness and then it came out full force once you started doing drugs. I used to use methamphetamines, and I quit suprisingly easily, my spouses father couldn't seem to put the coke down on and off for years, and still talks about it. I don't know what causes that difference.
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1032715_tn?1315987834
I personally believe addiction is not a disease but a genetic imbalance in the brain hence the reason addiction runs in families.I don't believe there is a cure as yet but it can be halted if you have support and a lot of strength and will power.Just because it's genetic it does not mean every family member will get the gene,I don't even know if geneticists have isolated the gene that causes addiction yet.My hope is my children don't have or carry the gene,I watch them very carefully for signs,my daughter who is 27 worries me but she is aware of how addiction works and keeps control,we'll see how she goes.

Denise
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725350_tn?1318684068
What would the imbalance be? Opiates are stronger, pharmacologically created substances mimicking endorphines. Would it be a lack of natural endorphines? Just trying to better understand your argument.

Also, addiction probability is hereditarily identifiable, science says. If a person has 0 addict/alcholic parents, the probabiltiy that they will become an addict if they abuse drugs is 15 percent. If they have 1 addict parent, that probability goes up to 40%. Two addicted parents, 85%. This one I'm not sure how they studied, but those were the numbers presented to me in treatment.

I don't think any particular gene causes addiction, but what the above study suggests is that the genetic make-up/brain chemistry of a person makes it either more or less likely that if that person abuses drugs or alcohol, they will become addicted. If it was a gene that automatically caused addiction when a person drank alcohol or experimented with drugs, that would make for some very young alcoholics and addicts.
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617347_tn?1331296681
  i read somewhere that there is a depletion of a certain  TN ( serotonin ( ?) brain receptor. The narcotic replaces our depletion and make us feel happy and we got hooked to this feeling and to these substances. I know i got hooked the instant i took them, how little i knew what was going on and the consecuences...
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1032715_tn?1315987834
I have a son with Tourette Syndrome and saw a geneticist,Also there is a great book out by David Cummings called Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders,from what I understand the imbalance is in the seratonin and dopamine levels,endorphines can also be affected,there is also a gene that affects impulsivity,with what we have been told and read on Tourettes-addiction,alcoholism,obesity and other problems can be seen in the families of Tourettes sufferers.The geneticists we saw were adamant that these things were related to a gene defect.

Denise




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1135275_tn?1326582465
well there's no doubt that there are major changes in the brain...i don't consider it a brain disease.....i consider it to be brain damage. the brain can no longer function properly and it's because of damage that we have caused to it. i don't think of a disease as something that we cause. cancer is a disease. substance abuse leads to brain damage, in my opinion...but i think the damage that's caused makes it almost impossible to stop.

i REALLY want to stop.....i really really REALLY want to stop more than anything. i REALLY hate myself every time i take a pill...but the 'me' that exists right before i take one says that i HAVE to have it and i can't live without it. i know this is a lie...a lie my mind tells me to get what it wants.....but what IT wants and what I want are 2 entirely different things...unforunately it's much more powerful than me. infact, i've almost completely given up fighting. especially because i now know that even 30 years from now, i'll still want these stupid things. the day i die......whenever that may be.......i'll STILL want them.

how very depressing.
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Avatar_f_tn
I believe alcoholism is a disease. I have seen it passed through generations even when the parent gets sober and isnt drinking when raising the child that becomes. I saw a family with 6 children none became alcoholics except the adopted one and we later found that her mother was a alcoholic.  I have seen people totally addicted to porn. Is that a dis   ease?
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725350_tn?1318684068
I am a drug addict and an alcoholic who fully believes in the disease concept and I believe that this will not ever change. I can tell you from personal experience that I do not want pills now, do not crave them, I want nothing to do with them. The thought of doing to myself what I used to do over a year ago makes me sick to my stomach now. If we addicts get into recovery, we dont have to feel the pain of addiction. I haven't felt that "need" or "want" for a drug for over 11 months now. I wouldn't trade my recovery for anything in the world, and as a lot of people in AA say in meetings, "Don't give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens."
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1135275_tn?1326582465
i can't believe it's a disease because, for example, if i'd never taken my drug of choice i would never have become an addict to begin with. i believe anyone who takes my drug of choice enough would become addicted....this is why i believe it's damage rather than disease. for me, the term 'disease' removes accountability.

substance abuse in one form or another is far more common than most people know. many people aren't even aware they are abusing substances. alcohol is by far the most abused without people knowing they're abusing it. i had a conversation with an 18 year old boy one time about substance abuse...i asked him what the most commonly abused drug is and his response was 'i don't know....i don't do drugs...'

i said 'alcohol is the most commonly abused drug'...........he didn't have anything to say. he drinks almost every day but doesn't consider it a drug. it's painful just to think about....the delusion that certain abuse is ok because everyone else is doing it.

anyway....i'm not trying to impose my beliefs on anyone. the topic was here and i was talking more to myself than anyone else. i've never given it much thought until i read this post. if perhpas there is a gene that's discovered to cause addiction, i would have a hard time buying into it simply because i don't believe anyone could avoid becoming an addict to heroin or oxy or seconal or nembutal just based on their genes.

i don't believe there is any gene that could tell me to go out and buy heroin and shoot up knowing full well of the dangers. it's a personal choice to do that...and because of that i can't see it as a disease. the mind then undergoes major changes after it becomes addicted...this much is certainly true......and it THEN might be thought of as a disease, but still i would prefer to think of it as damage since it was the result of informed personal choice.

i can not believe anyone is born an alcoholic or heroin addict just based on genes...i think they become it by personal choices....or sometimes just by taking medication for legit purposes. taking meds for pain or anxiety or insomnia are legit reasons, but it doesn't mean you can't become intensely addicted to them.

anyway, these are just my rambling thoughts. i honestly don't think there is a right or wrong view. perhaps the truth is its somewhere inbetween.
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725350_tn?1318684068
I can understand what you mean about inflicting it on ourselves, but addiction is not the only disease that works that way. A large portion of Americans are genetically pre-disposed to develope heart disease, and if they do not eat right, they may get full blown heart disease. It is the same way with addiction. Some are more likely to develope addiction if they abuse drugs. It is cause and effect. If I eat poorly, I might develope a heart disease. If I smoke, I might get cancer. If I abuse drugs, I might become addicted. It doesn't take away my accountability, because it was my actions that allowed for the pre-disposition to become active.

My biggest point I wanted to make to you though, was that giving up is not the answer. You said you have to accept that you will want them till the day you die, that is most certainly not the case. I have been sober right at 13 months, and I have not had the urge to use or a craving for a very long time, thanks to my AA/NA aftercare and other support systems. A lot of people in those meetings like to say something like "don't give up right before the miracle happens". This is so very true. I had almost resigned myself to the life I was living untill I got help and it changed my life entirely. We can do this, myself and many others in the forum are living proof.
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725350_tn?1318684068
And what I mean by pre-disposition is that, my brain, was not set up like normal people's, to begin with. From the very first time I used drugs and alcohol, my brain reacted differently than the average non-addict. I wanted more. Despite even feeling somewhat uncomfortable and out of control, my brain told me I needed another one. Take another couple of shots, another couple of hits. That was my pre-disposition. Normal drinkers have a few and then stop, they are not compelled to go untill they black out or pass out.

Either way, the important thing is that you dont give up on recovery.
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Avatar_m_tn
Amen ... I made the choice to use and I made the choice to stop ..... street drugs .... Addiction is a habit ...not a disease ...
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185545_tn?1331078466
Please! scientists have mapped the entire genome, they can engineer stem cells to become any organ they choose but the most compelling evidence we have to prove that addiction is a disease is some brain scans showing closed buds instead of blooming flowers..........pfffft!  

The disease of addiction is a myth. Its a choice like overeating, kleptomania, pyromania, pedophilia. We are the creaters/perpetuaters of our own addictions and not helpless victims to some conveniently manufactured disease.  The sooner people acknowledge their role in their own addictions the sooner they can recover and heal. I challenge anyone who feels they suffer from the disease of addiction to go into their nearest hopsice and tell the first terminal patient they encounter that they can relate to their condition because they also suffer from a deadly disease. I guarantee noone has the courage of their convictions to meet this challenge.  

  
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Avatar_m_tn
I am genuinely interested in understanding more about what you feel with regards to addiction being arrested?
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Avatar_m_tn
Can someone explain what they mean when they say that addiction is a choice and that those addicts who are sober are proof of addiction being a choice?
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Avatar_m_tn
I really appreciate the comments that mention the changes of the brain and the effects addiction has on the body. I believe these changes are important when speaking about addiction.
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Avatar_m_tn
I can appreciate the genetic imbalance theory because it makes sense that genes play an enormous role with the way our brain works.
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Avatar_m_tn
In reading these comments I have really learned a lot about the different opinions that people have towards addiction. I believe there is no right or wrong answer and that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions.
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