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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
Author: Justin Mckibben
What do you see when you look in the mirror? What collage of color and contrast can you catch in your reflection? Is there more than meets the eye hidden in the hues that captivate your pupils? And what does this have to do with drinking? If the eyes are the windows to the soul, can they tell us about the spiritual abnormality of the alcoholic?
Well researchers involved in a recent study are now suggesting there is a surprising possibility linked between the color of your eyes and your capacity to develop a drinking problem.
Booze for Bright Eyes
These curious findings were published in the July edition of the American Journal of Medical Genetics (Part B). But this isn’t the first time this kind of claim has been made. The results shown by these researchers actually echo the results of earlier work published by a study conducted at Georgia State University in 2000, which found that people with light-colored eyes consumed significantly more alcohol than those with darker eyes.
Researchers from the University of Vermont working on this new study defined light-colored eyes as:
- Or eyes with brown in the center
Through their data the survey suggests that people with these kinds of bright eyes may have a greater chance of becoming dependent on alcohol.
According to one of the lead researchers, Arvis Sulovari, who is a doctoral student in cellular, molecular and biological sciences, and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Dawei Li, Ph.D., the study defined “alcohol dependence” using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th Edition. Li co-led the study with Ph.D. student Arvis Sulovari.
Specifics and Statistics
The numbers for the survey were sampled from 1,263 European-Americans. Alcohol dependence according to the given definition appeared to be more prevalent among those with light eyes than those with dark brown eyes. Scientists also controlled for other variables that could influence the result, such as:
More specifically, the people in the study with blue eyes had the highest rates of alcoholic symptoms.
A genetic interaction is when one gene influences the effect that another gene has, and the researchers stated this study also found a “statistically significant” interaction between genes for eye color and genes associated with alcoholic tendencies.
These findings suggest the hope of finding the genetic roots of alcoholism, and it also may offer a connection to many other psychiatric illnesses.
In a recent interview Li stated the next step is to try and replicate the study’s results. Next, Li wants to delve deeper into the relationship between cultural background and genetic makeup, continuing his quest to find the mechanisms of mental illness.
If future studies still show a correlation, Li says, researchers will try and determine whether the link is strictly due to genetics, or if cultural factors play a role. He admits these being an alcoholic is an extremely complex disorder, and such disorders often are related to many environmental triggers, so it’s obviously not suggesting that all light-eyed individuals will be alcoholic or alcohol dependent. In an interview Li stated:
“Right now it’s a question for us — we don’t know what drives this,”
Nevertheless, the research seems to suggest an intriguing possibility: Could eye color be used as part of a valuable piece of the diagnosis process for a clinic specializing in treating alcohol dependence?
The idea of finding the genetic nature of a drug addict or alcoholic has long been debated. Many firmly believe that the disease of alcoholism is hereditary, and now more are falling in line with that assumption. The idea that we can use other genetic markers to identify alcoholism may seem a bit far-fetched at first, but it presents an interesting concept.
Seeing is believing, so while this research continues to take a closer look at the risks implanted in your retinae, the world watches for the proof to come full-circle in perspective.
While you may not have light-eyes, it doesn’t mean you’re not an alcoholic either. Alcoholism and drug addiction can infect anyone’s life, and the nature of the disease will trick some into thinking they aren’t affected. The truth is regardless of your eye color, you can see a brighter future when you take the steps toward recovery, and you don’t have to look too far for the help you need. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
As the host of the Late Late Show, and subject of his quasi-autobiography, American On Purpose, Craig Ferguson has made a pretty respectable name for himself as a comedian and entertainer. He has starred in plenty of films, television shows, and had a decent few runs as a stand-up comedian. Beyond all his celebrity successes, Craig Ferguson is also 22 years sober as of February 2014, and he has taken time both in his book and on his night-time television show to speak openly about his experience in recovery. Craig Ferguson is the ‘real deal’ in my opinion based off of the aspects of alcoholism he relates his story to, as well as how he understands the affliction and how he sought out a solution.
All Jokes Aside
At 29 years old Craig Ferguson was on a very fast track to the end of his rope. On February 20th 2007 15 years later he had taken time at the beginning of the Late Late Show to touch on the topic of how his jokes had recently been poking fun at celebrities who were struggling with scandals, especially some involving suspected substance abuse, and how he was beginning to feel that is was wrong of him, or anyone to be attacking people when they are vulnerable.
The subject of poking fun at vulnerable celebrities was relevant at the time due to Brittany Spears having had her very public break-down and then had checked into rehab. Ferguson wanted to be clear about the fact that people who suffer wit issues involving substance addiction and alcoholism have a very serious condition and it is to no fault of their own when they need to seek help.
Sharing His Story
Christmas Eve of 1991 Craig Ferguson had been on an all-night drinking binge, and instead of heading home to Scotland he had blacked-out in a room above a pub in London. He explained during his 2007 Late Late Show bit that he woke up Christmas morning covered in his own urine and bottomed out and miserable. It was at this time that he said he came to the conclusion, ‘I’m going to kill myself today.’ His initial plan was to stumble through his drunken stupor to a bridge and swan dive to his death. According to Ferguson in his comical but sincere tone,
“I’m going to show them! I didn’t even know who they were, but I was going to show them! I was desperately confused!”
Luckily for Craig on his way out the bar another drunken friend of his named Tommy woke up from his resting place behind the bar and stopped him from leaving. Tommy had reminded Craig at that point that he could not go to Scotland because there was no transportation running on Christmas day and he might as well stay and have a glass of sherry with him to celebrate the holiday.
Having indulged in an excessive amount of sherry with him friend Tommy, Ferguson says he just forgot to kill himself, so the alcohol actually save his life, because it was there when he needed it and didn’t even know he needed it. He continued to self-medicate for a few months, and is able to now identify that looking back it is obvious to him he was a real alcoholic, because he needed alcohol!
Experience in Sobriety
As of February 18th 1992, Craig Ferguson embarked on his sober journey and has enjoyed an amazing quality of life today. He is very out spoken about his beliefs, but maintains that his is not an expert or an authority on alcoholism. He only hopes to share his own experience with others.
After a short period of binge drinking, full of stand-up shows and pub visits he says he can’t really remember, he was able to get in touch an old drinking buddy who had abandoned the pub scene and gotten sober. This old friend was active and recovery and helped get into rehab, however according to Craig is was not a flashy and cushy celebrity rehab, and in fact he had a 65 year old priest from England as his roommate with a few funny stories of his own.
During the same segment on the Late Late Show Craig shared his opinions on some of the myths of alcoholism. He said some believe alcoholism can be cured by 28 day stay in rehab- and he maintaints that this is absolutely incorrect. But again when he shares these views he makes sure to clarify ‘that’s not MY experience,’ and he talks about how alcoholism is a chronic condition. To his experience, as well as the experience of a great majority of those in recovery, it is a condition you deal with for rest of life.
Craig Ferguson also sticks close to another common quote from the rooms of recovery,
“Don’t have a drinking problem, I can get one fast, but I have a thinking problem!”
He goes on to joke about how Guinness later release a brew with only 125 calories a pint, and his initial thought was, ‘maybe I should go on a diet- what could possibly go wrong?’ After a laugh he goes on to explain that he now understands this exact type of thought process to be clearly insane. He explains that he is not advocating temperance in any form, prohibition is not his intention, he just recognizes the fact he cannot drink.
“You can’t say to kids- ‘drink responsibly’- I’ll try! But I can’t”
He keeps the edge of humor going throughout the speech, and says that once he realized he had issues much deeper and more serious that he had to throw in the towel with alcoholism, and due to that experience he knows he should try his best to sympathize with anyone in the media struggling with substance abuse, even celebrities. He drives home the idea that you can’t beat alcoholism with money, if you could rich people wouldn’t die.
“It’s your responsibility to deal with the condition you have in whatever way you can”
According to Ferguson the best way he found after leaving rehab was finding others with similar experiences and talking to them, for free, about their experiences. He even had a chance to joke around on the show later on that year with fellow recovering alcoholic Anthony Hopkins in November 2007. Craig continues to be a respectable and exceptional example among celebrities in recovery who speak up and speak out against alcoholism and addiction, and relate the message of recovery in a serious and yet very humble and human way.
It is so refreshing to hear statements from celebrities who openly express their experiences with alcoholism and recovery, and can share a message of honest and humble hope. Craig Ferguson is very clear about the point that he was desperate and on the brink of self destruction before finally reaching out, getting to rehab, and finding support from fellow alcoholics. He enforces the new standard for celebrity recovery stories, and shows that making the call for help and getting treatment can save your life and change everything. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135