A chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and abuse with long lasting chemical changes in the brain
Chronic: Refers to a disease or condition that persists over a long period of time.
Disease: Characterized by an interruption or change of a body part, organ or system, showing signs and symptoms.
Drug addiction is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain in structure and in function. For most people, the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, but over time drug abuse can cause changes to the brain that impairs a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, while sending intense impulses to take drugs.
Adolescents have a higher risk of addiction, and the earlier drug use begins the more likely it is to progress to more serious abuse.
Addiction can be triggered by one pill, and will occur in everyone if sufficiently exposed to drugs.
Addiction has a genetic pre-disposition.
People who are addicted cannot control their need for drugs, even in the face of negative health, social or legal consequences. This lack of control is the result of drug induced changes in the brain and those changes cause behavior changes.
The brains of addicted people have been modified in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brain that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving. It is as if the individual was in a state of deprivation, where taking the drug is indispensable for survival. It is a powerful as that.
Addiction grows more serious over time; the progression can be measured by the amount, frequency, age and context of a person’s substance abuse.
It is not something that develops overnight. There is usually a series of steps that an individual goes through from experimentation and occasional use to the loss of control. That process defines addiction.
The person addicted will most likely deny that they are addicted.
Addiction can be successfully treated.People recovering from addiction can experience a lack of control and return to their substance use at some point in their recovery. This is called relapse.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “To appreciate the grips of addiction, imagine a person that wants to stop doing something and they cannot, despite catastrophic consequences. We’re not speaking of little consequences. These are catastrophic. And yet they cannot control their behavior.”
In order to cope with the disease of addiction, the more knowledge and understanding you have the better you will be able to make the choices you need for you and your family. It is a disease that affects the whole family, so everyone should be included in the process for recovery to be maximized and have greater success.
Here are some of the the many resources available on addiction.
Resources: HBO Addiction: What is Addiction? Addiction Among Adolescents, National Institute on Drug Abuse: Topics in Brief: A Research Update from NIDA – January 2007, National Institute on Drug Abuse: The Science of Addiction Publication