The word "addiction" is very broad. People can be chemically addicted to substances such as nicotine, alcohol, and heroin, or people's minds can be addicted to the rewarding feelings from behaviors such as sex, eating, or online shopping. For the sake of this post I am going to be only referring to addiction to chemical substances.
I believe that addiction is a self-inflicted brain disease. Not everyone succumbs to the disease of addiction. It becomes a brain disease after chronic exposure to substances, such as alcohol and drugs, that artificially flood the brain with dopamine, a brain chemical that gives us the feelings of pleasure, motivation, and reward (Volkow et al., 2003). I decided on this stance after studying the science of biological changes to the brain that occur after the repeated exposure to the substance or drug. Addiction by itself is not a brain disease, just like plaque on the teeth by itself isn't gum disease. However plaque can develop into gum disease as a result from the person's repeated behavior (or repeated lack of behavior-flossing and brushing), just like consuming heroin can develop into the disease of addiction from repeated consumption. The biological changes to the brain being made to the brain from chronic drug exposure can be viewed through the technology of positron emission tomography (PET) scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans (Volkow et al., 2003). Images of a study comparing the brains of drug users and non drug users reveal the neuronal changes and disruptions to regulatory circuits happening to the brain of the drug user over time. The key variable in the study was the chronic administration of the drug to the brain, to result in addiction. Once these biological changes occurred in the person's brain after chronic use of the drug, they displayed behaviors of drug abuse and addiction -the preoccupation with using and obtaining the drug, and unable to control themself or stop (Volkow et al., 2003).
This brings me to the conclusion that addiction to chemical substances, such as drugs and alcohol, is a brain disease. My belief is based on the scientific evidence of the biological changes visible in the brain of a drug addict, seen through PET scans and MRIs of the addict's brain compared to a non-addict's brain.
Majority of society looks at addiction and addicts as, ‘they know what they are doing to themselves, why don’t they just stop?’ Much of us know, including addicts themselves, that it is not that easy. As a matter of fact, those of us who aspire to study addiction and addictive behaviors, have some connection or interest in studying addiction. Addicts who are eager to stop their addiction but fail time and time again, struggle to understand why. Some may blame their family upbringing or a traumatic event, others may have thought they could quit whenever they want to, it’s just a phase; in fact, it all becomes a pattern.
Then why are addicts addicted to their drug of choice, or lifestyle of choice? Addiction is a disease that reshapes the brain. In the article by Leshner (2022) the point that diseases of the brain are influenced by biological or genetic factors but there are such factors as social and behavioral impacts that reshape the brain. An individual’s willingness to take a drug to escape a chronic, emotional, or psychiatric complication and that individual’s brain becoming accustomed to needing that drug, is a chemical shift and reshaping of the brain’s chemistry. Addiction to smoking, for example. The nicotinic receptors in our brain, natural for everyone, eventually craves nicotine to the point where the smoker’s brain needs it to function. We all have these receptors within our brain; however, a combination of environmental and social factors makes one person an addict and someone else the ability to ward off such behaviors.
If you know someone who struggles with alcohol addition, I urge you take a few minutes out of your day to watch this video. This is a first-hand account of a famous news anchor who had it all, a great job, a loving husband, a family and how she almost lost it all (“The Making of an Alcoholic + Barely Surviving Alcoholism – The Amazing Story of Elizabeth Vargas,” 2016).
The Making of an Alcoholic + Barely Surviving Alcoholism – The Amazing Story of Elizabeth Vargas. (2016). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPLJuyULAZ8
If you have a loved one that is struggling with addiction, please watch this video to see the struggle the addict goes through. Often families cut off addicts, but this video shows why their support is needed. Fighting this awful disease together will more often lead to success.
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