The addiction disease model is divided into two categories. Is addiction a disease or an avoidable choice?
There appears to be no one root cause of addiction. Rather, several factors seem to contribute towards an individual’s likelihood to pick up a drug and these factors are often compounded by each other. Taken as a whole, the resulting outcome is highly reminiscent of almost any conventional disease.
Addiction is insidious by nature because the organ it affects most is the brain. Like with many other mental illnesses, the line between psychology and biology becomes, for some onlookers, frustratingly blurred. The clinical definition of a disease is an incorrectly functioning system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors as well as environmental factors and internal imbalances.
Comparing the addiction and disease essentially makes it is impossible to neglect the addiction disease model.
Addiction and Brain Chemistry
There are a plethora of belief systems built around the nature and “accurate” classification of addiction. Various people and groups either agree with or oppose the concept of addiction as a disease. To make the incredibly confusing science as clear as possible, let’s try to examine the neurochemical changes with more lenient terms.
Pleasure spots in the brain are triggered when individuals engage in specific actions. Nourishment, pleasant tasting food, engaging in physical activity, and sex all release that feel-good chemical we all love, which the medical community refers to as dopamine. These actions are beneficial to our well-being and our brain rewards us in order to encourage these activities.
Unfortunately, some substances, like drugs, hijack these neural pathways. They begin releasing huge amounts of that feel-good chemical that leaves us both craving more of the substance and less capable of deriving as much pleasure as we had from the more natural methods of releasing dopamine.
Brain Chemistry in the Non-Addict
So why is it, then, that this deluge of dopamine doesn’t affect everyone the same?
It’s evident that there are plenty of people who try to use addictive substances without ever truly becoming addicted. One theory is that the effect is pronounced in addicts because before even touching a substance, they were dopamine deficient. For an addict, when the brain is overstimulated with dopamine and overtaken by euphoria, something clicks. I’ve heard it said, and I’ve experienced it myself. It’s not just having fun, it’s filling a proverbial hole inside of us.
The result of over-stimulation of the neuroreceptors and the subsequent desensitization that is a consequence is a direct effect of drug abuse, yes, but it is an effect enabled by a predisposition to addiction.
Nature vs. Nurture
The debate of nature versus nurture has been raging for ages, and not just with addiction, but across multiple disciplines and questions.
In the case of drug addiction, it’s long been an irrefutable and self-evident fact that nature played a role: it’s difficult to become an addict if you have personal substance, after all. More recently it’s become demonstrably apparent that genetics play a large role in the process of becoming addicted to a substance.
The addiction disease model reconciles these two views and provides factual evidence that drug addiction is both biologically imprinted and influenced by one’s environment and upbringing. Nature refers to the biological aspect of personality development. It is all the genetic characteristics passed down from multiple generations. Mental illness, addictive disorders, anxiety, and depressive disorders fall under this category.
Nurture, on the other hand, refers to the environmental aspect of personality development and is based on genetic makeup. The personality growth while nurtured factors greatly in the outcome of the personality. Nature is predetermined where no amount of nurturing will change the probability of disease.
Addiction is far from the only disease with both an inborn and environmental component. A few examples to support this statement are schizophrenia and skin cancer. Schizophrenia can be latent and activated by certain substances or events. In the same light, predisposition alone can cause skin cancer but overexposure to the sun will drastically increase the chances of development.
The Addiction Disease Model: The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Addiction
For an individual with a family history consisting of addicts, the substance may taste and feel different than if it were to enter the bloodstream of an individual with no family history of addiction.
As a recovering addict, I am now aware of why I initially chose to pick up drugs. I was self-medicating mental illness and attempting to combat my lack of self-esteem.
My intentions were not ill. I was ill. Unknowing of the consequences that would soon arise, I acted upon what I felt was fast and effective. I based my decisions on what will allow me to feel normal. When it came to drugs I had no choice. The influx of drugs entering my brain and bloodstream caused my mind and body to be entirely dependent on them.
Eventually leading me to the discovery that the problem was not the drugs. The problem was the way I reacted to them.
The Addiction Disease Model in Recovery
The addiction disease model attracts those who understand what changes the body undergoes when an addict is exposed to drugs. The initial chemical imbalance does not align properly with a new chemical entering the body.
My body was allergic to all foreign substances. Coming from a long line of alcoholics and addicts, it was inevitable my genetic makeup would mock those characteristics. More often than not, the daily struggles of an active user are highly misinterpreted.
Many non-addicts cannot identify with the daily struggles of an active user. They don’t understand what it feels like to be engulfed in a substance and have no means of ever returning to true normalcy. The only “normal” an addict comes to know is what they feel while being high.
Most addicts after gaining sobriety reveal themselves to intelligent, empathetic and decent individuals with a diverse range of skills, interests, passions and, unsurprisingly given the places addiction will take you, life experience.
I believe while under the influence of a substance we become lost and confused. Although, despite it all, we never truly lose that spark of who we are, no matter how dim it becomes.
Is Addiction a Disease?
Like all inherited diseases, addiction takes a toll on all involved. It not only affects the user but affects every single person in their life. Unbeknownst to the addict, their addiction causes them to display behavior that is distasteful, hostile and aloof. It causes them to lose touch with reality, morals, and values. Addiction detaches the person from themselves and all that surrounds them. It consigns them to a small, limited existence focused entirely on the drug.
When it comes to understanding addiction as a disease, the understanding is that there are biological, physical and psychological factors that predispose an individual to addiction. The changes that occur in the body during the course of addiction reinforce dependence and the cycle of abuse.
The addiction disease model portrays an undeniably accurate description of how society is gradually changing and beginning to better understand how addiction should be treated.
Do you or someone you know need addiction treatment?
Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities offer various treatment, detox, and residential programs in California and South Florida. Our professionals are ready to handle any medical and behavioral challenges linked to addiction, and we strive to give our clients the tools they need to start their life in recovery.