The simple answer would be that yes, addiction is a disease – and not just drug addiction. That is a question many people ask, in fact. But the main problem is that most people seem to fail to properly understand addiction and why it is a disease. It is a complex issue, with many different factors to be considered.
At least 24 million Americans have used drugs at some point in their lives. You, or someone you love, may be battling with drug addiction after casual use spiraling out of control. You might not quite get how it escalated, what are the long-term effects, or what to do next.
While some people think of drug addiction as a choice, the medical community has an entirely different take on it. And the only way to overcome it is by understanding it and taking the right course of action.
Habit and Addiction: Is Drug Addiction A Choice?
We all know people who have posted on social media shaming drug addicts who have died from drug use. They may say that precious resources are wasted on them because they think drug addiction is a choice. You may know someone in your life who has asked why you or your loved one can’t just quit drugs. These people think that drug abuse is only a matter of choice, or that relapse is easily preventable.
These and many other statements are made due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of addiction. This is born from years of prejudice and taboo around the subject, too. While it is a delicate subject to discuss, not talking about it only makes matters worse.
According to experts, drug addiction is, in fact, a disease, also called a substance use disorder. It is not the same as casually drinking or using drugs here and there, and most people don’t understand that. An addiction has pushed someone beyond their boundaries. Abusing substances is no longer pleasurable for the person who is addicted at this point.
A mere habit can get worse and worse, making someone lose control over their lives. And they might not be concerned about the consequences anymore. This is when drug use can become classified as a disease.
Why Is Drug Addiction Categorized As A Disease?
For those who believe drug addiction is a choice, it may be difficult to comprehend why people continue to abuse drugs. This is especially true for people who have used drugs a few times, but did not become addicted.
Drug addiction, or any substance used disorder, can start with just casual use of drugs. In many ways, an addict might not have become a drug addict if they had not been introduced to drugs in the first place. Still, most drug addicts have underlying issues that precede substance abuse and that make them do it. They could have relied on other destructive behaviors to cope with their circumstances had they not been introduced to drugs.
Drug use becomes an addiction, or a disease, when the person feels the need to use drugs just to function normally, even when there is little pleasure in it. Substance use affects the production of hormones and chemicals in the system, causing an imbalance that takes time to compensate. Prolonged periods of this imbalance is what makes it harder for the brain to properly work without the substance. Soon, the cravings start, and their behavior will start to change.
Those who take drugs may feel incredibly high the first few times they take it. But as they continue to take the drug repeatedly, they need more and more to achieve that same feeling. This is because they’ve developed a tolerance to it, which builds up with every dose. They’ll use a little more every time, and the constantly increasing dosages cause more and more damage to the brain.
Multiple areas of the brain become damaged by drug addiction with time. That includes areas responsible for decision-making, judgment, self-control, and behavior. And this is one of the reasons why an addict’s behavior is hard to predict – and hardly something they can control.
Once someone becomes pathologically addicted, if they do not continue to use drugs, they might go into withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms can happen quite early on and can happen even when someone is trying to get clean. In fact, for those without the resources to detox in a safe environment, it can be incredibly difficult, and in some cases, life-threatening.
Why Does Addiction Start And How Is It Developed?
There are many, many reasons for someone to seek drugs. And there are many more reasons why someone might become addicted. Long-term drug use does cause addiction, but the way that will start depends on each person. And sometimes, it is much more complex than just saying no to drug use in the first place.
For instance, many people can diet and lose the desired amount of weight without developing anorexia or bulimia. Some people, however, might starve, and even go so far as binging and purging. They might start out trying out healthy ways to improve their weight and end up exercising and dieting compulsively. While they are different mental diseases, eating disorders and addiction have that element in common – it might start out innocently.
Just as it is with a drug habit, a person with an eating disorder continues their toxic behavior long after the reward. They might no longer have a reward or an end goal they are trying to get to. For eating disorders, it starts with a weight number. For drugs, it is the feeling of pleasure, or feeling good. In both cases, it becomes chronic and compulsive, and the person feels no sense of accomplishment or pleasure. And yet, they continue doing it.
Potential drug addicts might take drugs or drink occasionally without knowing they’re taking a risk. Few people start out with illicit, hard drugs, and they might not take them at all, maybe even only gateway ones. They might be completely unaware that their actions might result in addiction.
Addiction can start with casual drinking, and evolve into alcoholism with time. For others, it might be narcotics they took for pain management, and became hooked. It does not all start with recreational use or what some might consider “irresponsible substance misuse”.
Drug addicts do not start taking drugs with the intention of becoming addicts. Just as people with anorexia do not go on a diet with the intention of becoming anorexic. Instead, they are diseases developed over time, triggered by decisions that many people take every day, and turn out fine.
What Are The Signs of Addiction?
One of the main signs is the previously mentioned loss of control – both self-control and of their lives. But this is just one of many reasons for concern, and it might be one of the later symptoms. The earlier addiction is detected and treated, the better the chances of recovery.
The early signs of addiction will depend on multiple factors, such as the dosage or the type of substance a person is using. While withdrawal symptoms might be different from person to person, some red flags are common to addiction in general. Some of the ones to look out for are:
- Losing interest in activities and/or people that they once enjoyed
- Lack of proper hygiene and diminished personal appearance
- Avoiding eye contact often (especially worse in the case of recurrent bloodshot eyes)
- Smelling of smoke and/or alcohol, either on their breath or their clothes
- Overtly secretive behavior most of the time or being more introverted than usual
- Sudden, significant changes in eating and/or sleeping habits (too much or too little)
- Displaying manipulative behavior and/or lying constantly
- Experiencing extreme mood swings or emotional stability, sometimes acting paranoid
- Problems with concentration and/or memory
As for withdrawal symptoms, this would depend on the drug. However, there are some that are frequently reported by people addicted to different substances. The timeline of symptoms also varies, but they can start as early as 6 hours after the last dosage. People often manifest symptoms such as:
- Gastric symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation
- Headaches (might become migraines)
- Erratic heart rate (arrhythmia), either too fast or too slow
- Muscle aches and/or stiffness
- Sweating (more than usual)
- Feeling anxious, restless, and/or agitated
- Displaying irritability, tension, and/or moodiness
- Panic attacks, paranoia, and/or hallucinations
- Chills, tremors, and even seizures depending on the drug and level of addiction
While a few of these signs and symptoms shouldn’t be cause for concern, multiple at once can be a bad sign. Some people can easily be in denial about their condition, or not even be aware of it. It might take a loved one’s input for them to realize this might be more than just a habit.
Why Do Some People Become Addicted And Others Do Not?
First, people who suffer from mental disorders have a bigger chance of developing a drug addiction. They may use unhealthy methods to cope during particularly difficult moments in their lives. More often than not, drug misuse takes place as a form of self-medication. Experiencing both addiction and a mental disorder is called a dual diagnosis, and it is quite common. About 60% of people who suffer from addiction also deal with a psychiatric disorder.
As we said, some people can take drugs or drink without developing an actual addiction. Other people cannot – and they might not know beforehand. It is also useful to note that some people can do so at different stages in their lives, though they will likely always struggle with thoughts and temptations. Multiple factors that precede drug abuse are what might make someone more likely to become addicted.
Drugs, or any other destructive behavior that becomes addictive, have the power to mitigate mental disorder symptoms. So while alcohol might make someone feel relaxed, for instance, the substance can make them more depressed or numb. The two disorders affect and feed off of each other, like a vicious toxic cycle.
Next, there is the genetic factor of addiction. A person with a family history of addiction could have genes that make it more likely to happen. Studies prove that there is a link between addiction and certain genes. However, family history does not have to be a life sentence – not everyone with addicted relatives become addicted themselves. It is just a factor to take into consideration when making certain life choices.
Another potential trigger for addiction, and it is a main one, is trauma. Though the previous factors can be things to look out for, trauma is what can make someone start using. A traumatic experience can be abuse, natural disasters, divorce, unemployment, or any stressful event. Even with the aforementioned issues, a person might only truly start using drugs once there is a trigger, a final push towards it. And trauma might be just that.
Drug abuse grows from a lack of healthy coping mechanisms to deal with external stressors. That, added to any of the issues mentioned, can be enough for the development of drug addiction.
What Do I Do If I Or Someone I Love Suffer From A Drug Addiction?
Admitting there is a problem might be the first step – but it is only the beginning of the journey to recovery. If you or someone you love is suffering from drug addiction, it is time to move forward and away from it. Quitting with the support of the right team can make recovery easier and help prevent relapse. And we at Coastal Detox hope to be that for you.
Contact us to learn more about your options and know what the next steps can be. We have a staff of trained professionals who are not only caring and compassionate, but who also understand that addiction isn’t a choice. Whether it is detox or drug treatment, we provide multiple services that can fulfill your needs.
Drug addiction can be overcome, even if there have been a few bumps on the way. While it is a disease, it is possible to live a healthy life, free of drug abuse.