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Author: Justin Mckibben
This is arguably one of the most difficult questions to answer regarding drug addiction without being met with contention and passionate opposition. The troubling part is, despite the fact that the medical community, including the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has taken a strong stance on classifying addiction as a disease, others still argue that it is a condition that only exists out of lack of personal responsibility or moral willpower. Stigma against addicts was the driving force behind the way the world understood addiction for so long that now it is an uphill battle at times trying to detach from those old ideas.
Beyond the assumptions most people adopt as fact, science and psychology have taught us that addiction is far more complex and misunderstood than most can imagine.
Still, the great question is the “why” of it all, which is a far more debatable way to ask the question than the “how” of it. Even more debate could surround the perceived motivations, and more controversy comes from the “addiction is a choice” conversation. At first, let us look at what the research tells us.
Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Brain
Now first, let us look at how addiction is defined according to medical science, offering the evidence from the ASAM.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) gave the most recent definition of addiction as a chronic brain disorder after a four-year process involving more than 80 experts. The ASAM definition notes that two decades of advancements in neuroscience convinced ASAM officials that addiction should be
defined by the activity present in the brain.
For instance, research has shown that addiction affects the brain’s reward circuitry to the point that memories of previous experiences with food, alcohol and other drugs or even sex can activate cravings and induce more addictive behaviors. Also, the brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is altered in the brains of addicts.
Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the ASAM committee on addiction’s new definition states:
“The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them,”
“Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”
Dr. Hajela did, however, add that the idea of choice is not completely off the table, but that it is not about choosing addiction, but choosing recovery.
To be fair, there are also neuro-scientists like Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself; author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” who believe that the brain is definitively reshaped by addiction, but do not think it should be classified as a ‘disease’. These scientists recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns. While they do disagree with the specifics of the ‘disease’ term, they stand by the neuroscience of addiction.
Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: Chronic Medical Condition
Further exploring the definition of addiction as presented by the medical and scientific communities, we find that the American College of Physicians (ACP) calls addiction a “substance use disorder” and states that addictions to drugs should be considered a serious public health issue. The ACP states that substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition.
Several agencies have supported this definition of addiction, including:
- The American Medical Association
- The American Psychiatric Association
- The Institute of Medicine
- The World Health Organization
And if we are going to get really technical, the basic definition of “disease” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
-a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms
Examining this logic, it is clear that addiction meets all the criteria to be considered a disease. In fact, most definitions of disease are pretty spot-on with the nature of substance use disorder.
Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Formula
Now that we have explored how addiction can qualify as a disease, let us look into the “why” of it. Some insist there is an ‘addiction gene’ that dooms people to addiction. Others say the reason people become addicted is because of their circumstances in life.
One might say there is a kind of ‘formula’ for addiction, but it would be one like X+Y=Addiction.
Research has pointed toward biological differences that make people more or less susceptible to addiction. Certain genes, or combinations of genes, may result in someone’s brain and body developing dependence much faster than others with the same consumption.
So when someone says they drank the same as someone else, or did the same amount of drugs for the same amount of time, we need to understand that it doesn’t mean they will have the same reaction to those drugs. One of the main arguments people use to oppose the idea of addiction being a disease is comparing an addict to other people who drink and use drugs without being addicts… but science has shown us that is not how it works.
Then there is epigenetics, the study of functional, and sometimes inherited, changes in the regulation of gene activity that are not dependent on gene sequencing. In short, it means to examine how environmental exposures or choices people make can actually remodel (mark) the structure of DNA at the cell level or even at the level of the whole organism.
Here is where we openly admit to the actions (i.e. choices) of individuals to influence the development of addiction. Someone’s environment and the way they react to it does contribute to developing an addiction. In general, research has shown that an individual’s health is the result of interactions between their genes and their environment. Of course the likelihood of addiction can be increased by factors like:
Studies from the Nation Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) support that an individual’s surroundings also have a particular impact on drug use. According to the NIDA,
“Exposure to drugs or stress in a person’s social or cultural environment can alter both gene expression and gene function, which, in some cases, may persist throughout a person’s life. Research also suggests that genes can play a part in how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some people at higher risk for disease than others.”
When someone starts addressing external issues with drugs or alcohol, it magnifies the problem. Those who are exposed to a different life-style will also have a different risk of developing a substance use disorder. This impacts those epigenetics we were talking about.
In the end, we can say that people use drugs and alcohol as a solution. It is the resource they turned to for escape, for excitement or for a feeling of ease and contentment. It was a powerful element they were able to reach to, that ultimately rewired their brain and changed their DNA.
Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?
Some people will say that the Y of X+Y=Addiction model proves that addiction is a choice, not a disease. Well, to argue that choices can still create diseases, we can point out that in 2014 it was noted for the first time in history, “lifestyle diseases” killed more people than communicable diseases. Health care providers and public health officials have recognized for a very long time that unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are the root cause of several diseases, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Some forms of cancer
Choices influence these conditions, which the medical community categorized as modifiable risk factors, including:
- Poor dietary habits
- Physical inactivity
- Alcohol overuse
People would argue still that someone who uses hard drugs knows the high risk and chooses. Well, don’t people who eat foods with low nutritional value and over-indulge in smoking while never exercising know the risks?
Why do people become addicted to drugs? There are so many factors unique to the individual with that formula. Genetics, environment, actions, along with physical and mental health all play a part in how a substance use disorder develops, just like numerous other conditions. That is precisely why it is so important we start to recognize addiction as a disease; as a chronic medical condition and one that people should not be shamed and stigmatized for. All these elements of substance use disorder literally rewire the brain and rewrite the DNA.
Though this may seem like a lot of information, it covers barely a fraction of the research on this subject. There is no easy “why” to it, but there is enough to know why recovery is so important. Real recovery is not just removing the drugs, but also working to create new coping skills. Recovery takes work, and a great foundation can make all the difference.
Understanding addiction is one thing. But learning how to make the life in recovery that you deserve takes a strong beginning. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
10 Sure Signs Your Son or Daughter is Addicted to Drugs
By Jenny Hunt, Palm Partners Recovery Center
January 23, 2012
It may be hard to determine if your son or daughter is addicted to drugs, especially if they are hiding it from you. However, there are some sure signs of drug abuse and addiction.
1.) Neglecting or ignoring responsibilities at school, work, or home. This is one of the first signs of drug addiction (i.e. bad grades, skipping work, neglecting chores.)
2.) Extreme mood fluctuations. People that are addicted to drugs often don’t take care of themselves physically. They are often sick and tired and they can experience extreme mood fluctuations. Angry outbursts, lethargic demeanor, and emotional instability are common.
3.) Using under dangerous conditions. People that are addicted to drugs rarely think about the consequences of their using. They often take risks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Common risks taken while under the influence of drugs or alcohol include driving while intoxicated, stealing, and having unprotected sex.
4.) Problems in relationships. Often when people become addicted to drugs and alcohol, they experience a negative impact on their existing relationships. It is difficult for an active drug addict or alcoholic to maintain relationships with people who do not use or drink. You may notice your child is hanging out with a different group of friends, gets in fights with family members, or has arguments with his or her boss or coworkers.
5.) Unsuccessful attempts to quit. It is often impossible for a drug addict or alcoholic to quit on their own. If a person addicted to drugs or alcohol does manage to stop using or drinking on their own, they often cannot stay stopped.
6.) Changes in social life. Often a person addicted to drugs or alcohol will avoid social events that take place at sober venues or will sneak drugs or alcohol into an otherwise sober environment. As the addiction progresses, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol will spend more and more time alone. Also, you may notice that your loved one has abandoned or quit activities that they used to enjoy.
7.) Physical signs of drug or alcohol use. Often one of the most noticeable signs that a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol are the physical signs of intoxication or withdrawal. You may notice that your son or daughter has bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or impaired motor coordination. Also, changing appetites or sudden weight loss or gain can be a sign that your child is addicted to drugs. Unusual sleep patterns, tremors, and a deteriorated physical appearance are often indications of alcohol or drug addiction.
8.) Financial problems. Alcohol and drug addiction can be an expensive habit. Often a drug addict or alcoholic will neglect their finances because the drug or alcohol will come first. Bills often go unpaid and credit cards become maxed out.
9.) Legal consequences. Commonly, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol will experience legal consequences as a result of their use such as arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct, DUI/DWI, and drug possession.
10.) Focus on obtaining the drug no matter what. When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the need to get and use the drug eclipses all rational thought. A drug addict or alcoholic may lie or steal to get the money needed obtain drugs or alcohol or hang out with people they don’t like in order to acquire them. Frequently, a person addicted to drugs or alcohol will do things they would never ordinarily do to get drugs or alcohol when they run out.
If your loved one is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.
How Can I Tell if Someone is Addicted to Drugs and Needs Help?
By: Rhea Rosier, Palm Partners Recovery Center
December 28th, 2011
Usually if you have been living with a person addicted to drugs you know what it looks like and you know what it feels like. Sometimes though if the person using is more adept they are able to hide the signs a bit better. If you want to know for sure how to tell if someone is addicted to drugs and needs help here are some basic guidelines and things you can look for.
Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse
- You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.
- You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
- Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.
- Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.
Common signs and symptoms of someone addicted to drugs.
“You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.”
- You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
- You’ve lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
- Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug’s effects.
- You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy,such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
- You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway
Drug abusers often try to conceal their symptoms and downplay their problem. If you’re worried that a friend or family member might be addicted to drugs and needs help, look for the following warning signs:
Physical warning signs of drug abuse
- Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual.
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
- Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits.
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
- Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.
Behavioral signs of drug abuse
- Drop in attendance and performance at work or school.
- Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
- Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
- Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
- Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities).
Psychological warning signs of drug addiction
“Unexplained change in personality or attitude.”
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts.
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness.
- Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
- Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
If your loved one is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.
Drug Addicted Lullaby, A Story For You
Ohh, ohh, ohh, drug addiction.
I bet you were thinking I was going to start writing some lullaby lyrics about drug addiction. Drug addiction added to my infliction. Something poetic and rhyming like that. Not quite though.
I dont want to sing for you. I want to tell you a story.
Let me tell you a story about drug addiction. A true story. Which means this was a real moment in time. Incase you were wondering what “true” story means. Its not fabricated, its not made up in my mind, its not fiction. Its fact, its a true story. A true story of drug addiction. I wish it could be as sweet as a lullaby your mom used to sing you to sleep at night, but drug addiction doesnt usually consist of a whole lot of things that give you sweet dreams.
My drug addiction brought me to a place that looked alot like this. Picture a girl of about 21 sitting in a crack house, on dirty bedroom floor in her underwear hoping every next hit would stop her heart. Sweating, twitching, shaking, full of fear, terror and delusion. Picture that same girl with eyes that have no light in them. Picture a girl being asked to leave that place and choosing to stay instead. My drug addiction lied to me, deluded my mind, and almost killed me. My drug addiction came in the form of cocaine and a needle. It came in the form of little rainbow colored bags of dope. It came with the promise of peace and the lie that it would somehow last.
Drug addiction for me was my solution for the longest time and asking me to leave that solution was like asking a mother to leave her child. I know that sounds like an extreme example but it is so true. Terrifyingly true. Drug addiction started off as something so pleasant. It was that perfect puzzle piece that fit with me so I could fit in with the rest of the world. That can only last for so long though when you are in a drug addiction. The puzzle piece starts to become deformed and warped. It doesnt fit anymore.
So you get a chance to step out of your delusion and find another puzzle piece that you already have. It was specially designed for you and you had it all along.
I am grateful for my drug addiction today. It brought me to a place I would describe as hell but it also brought me to the place where I have found a heaven on earth. Drug addiction was my biggest curse and my most beautiful blessing. Drug addiction allowed me to realize that I had been searching for an answer and when I realized my drug abuse was not the answer anymore I searched out another answer. The other answer being a power greater than myself, fellowship, treatment, and a 12-step program. This answer has brought upon me the greatest gifts this life has to offer.
Drug addiction had me in a homeless shelter 9 months ago, it had me on a hospital bed a year and a half ago, it had me at 90 pounds, scarred, scared, and wanting to die. Today, today is different. Today drug addiction has allowed me to persevere, to hang on, to find the willingness to change, to be honest with myself and to connect with a God of my own understanding. Drug addiction has become my past and a magnificent part of my present. It is a gift in my journey on the way to finding the greatest peace. That great peace that I speak of is a wholeness of my being. Its also described in that I want nothing, I dont already have. I can sit in complete contentment with the world around me. I can take a deep breath and not feel surrounded by chaos. I can be Rhea Nicole Rosier an addict and alcoholic and smile about it.
Thats my story for the day. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you or someone you know is suffering the pain of drug addiction dont hesitate to call us at 800-951-6135.