Is Addiction a Disease?
According to The Center on Addiction, addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory. In addition to these damaging effects on the body, it also can damage families, relationships, education and careers.
Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The consequences of untreated addiction often include other physical and mental health disorders that require medical attention. This can include depression, anxiety, and more severe mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. If addiction is left untreated over time, it will become more severe, disabling and life threatening.
Unfortunately, addiction can eventually be fatal and lead to death. In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, and the number is rising exponentially every year. In addition, more than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than 8% of those receive treatment. An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind tobacco and poor diet.
Why is Will Power Not Enough?
When someone is suffering from the disease of addiction, it may be very easy for outsiders to tell them to simply stop using their substance of choice to get better. However, while good intentioned, this sentiment is much harder to achieve than it seems. While people can initially make the choice to start drinking or using drugs, they do not have a choice about how their brain will react and respond to the substance. For example, many people are able to drink socially and keep it under control. However, many others can develop a drinking problem because they cannot control their use, due to their brain’s response to the alcohol. That is why being able to simply stop drinking or using drugs can seem easy for some people because they do not have addiction.
This thinking can also be used for other diseases, as well. Diseases that started as a poor choice but eventually leads to something uncontrollable can include diabetes and skin cancer. Often times, people who are obese will eventually form diabetes from their poor eating habits. While it was their choice to eat the way that they have, they had no choice over their body developing diabetes. Getting their eating on track and exercising to bring their weight down will eventually help reverse their diabetes and allow them to eventually live healthy lives. Similarly, people who expose their skin to the sun made a choice to do so. However, they did not choose for their skin to develop cancerous spots. With treatment, often times these cancerous skin spots can be removed and people can go on to live healthy lives cancer-free. Both of these diseases require medical attention in order to treat and can eventually be fatal, just like addiction.
Addiction Chemically Changes Your Brain
When someone uses a substance, it can release high levels of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are associated with reward and pleasure, much like eating while hungry. The more a person rewards their brain with the substance, the more the brain will require the substance. It can then affect the parts of the brain associated with motivation and memory, which is why such things as relationships, careers and family are put to the side in favor of substance abuse.
When such areas of people’s lives are damaged, they will further their substance use to “numb” any pain or embarrassment. Since the disease of addiction is also associated with trauma, they can be covering up feelings that they have been wanting to suppress. They have now formed unhealthy coping skills that can eventually lead to death.
Over time, these changes in the brain will cause people to crave substances and require the substance in order to “feel normal”. When someone decides that they need to stop their substance abuse issue and get treatment for their addiction, ”rewiring” the brain is an essential first step. This includes detoxification, which can mean experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms until the body is clear of the substance.
About Pinelands Recovery Center
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing and often fatal disease if left untreated. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Willpower alone is not enough when it comes to treating addiction. Quitting “cold turkey” is dangerous, and can very likely lead to relapse. We will be there for you, or your loved one, every step of the way in their journey towards recovery from addiction. We call this Therapeutic Alliance: the combination of evidence-based treatment with compassionate people and lasting support.
Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is widely known as one of New Jersey’s finest, most respected addiction treatment facilities. With comfortable 30-bed accommodations and a 24-hour professional staff, we can offer clients a serene, relaxing environment amid the serene forest environment. This stress-free setting with its sense of warmth and welcoming enables you to feel comfortable and confident about your clean and sober life ahead.
We will establish clear goals, both general in nature and specific to your needs. We continue to
monitor those goals, to make sure that our clients are progressing and buying into their recovery
plan. We thrive on assisting clients in feeling connected to the recovery community, share and
demonstrate effective coping techniques, help clients to modify attitudes and patterns of
behavior and everything else you will need to be happy and productive living a sober, healthy
We ensure that clients complete their planned concrete tasks, encourage hope, optimism and
healthy living. Our recovery program is not a revolving door treatment program; it is a recovery
model designed to help clients go on to lead productive, happy lives. For more information, visit