Josh Chandler | December 20, 2023

Is Drug Addiction a Disease or Choice?

Exploring the Nature of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a complex disorder that has sparked many conversations and debates within the medical, scientific, and societal spheres. There has been an ongoing debate about whether drug addiction is a disease or a choice. There is important information that comes from all perspectives and, to gain a clear understanding of the nature of drug addiction, it’s imperative to have a thorough exploration into the various factors that contribute to drug addiction. At Muse, we believe that knowledge is power and through this comprehensive exploration, you’ll be invited to explore the multifaceted nature of addiction to gain a clear understanding of the complexities of substance use disorders. 


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Drug Addiction: Disease or Choice? A Comprehensive Look

The opposing views of drug addiction being a disease or a choice often transcend individual beliefs and spark discussions that bring perspectives from both opposing sides. To gain a holistic perspective on this topic, you must consider the diverse factors contributing to addiction and the various viewpoints on how to classify it. 

Drug addiction is often seen as a manifestation of behaviors and choices that a person makes. However, the more you dive deeper into the subject, the more you can learn about the profound impacts and implications that the brain and your behavior have on the evolution of substance use disorders. 

addiction as a brain disease


Addiction as a Brain Disease: Scientific Insights

There has been extensive research that has been completed on the nature of addiction and research has shown that addiction, is in fact, a brain disease. Studies have shown that the changes in brain structure and function during substance use provide valuable insight into the biological contributing factors of addiction. 

When the brain is exposed to substances, there are significant alterations that occur after repeated exposure to addictive substances. The neurotransmitter systems in the brain, specifically the ones that influence the brain’s reward center, play a pivotal role in the development and sustaining nature of addiction. The use of substances will typically influence the brain’s dopamine levels which are linked to pleasure and reward. As your brain is exposed to substances, it can lead to a dysregulation of dopamine that can lead to impulsive and destructive behaviors that can occur during addiction. 

Understanding the Disease Model of Addiction

The disease model of addiction depicts that addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition that affects the brain’s reward system. Understanding the disease model of addiction provides insight into how addiction is a disease rather than a moral decision or choice. 

The disease model of addiction describes addiction as having biological, neurological, genetic, and environmental origins. It is imperative to gain an understanding of this perspective to develop an awareness of the contributing factors to your addiction and gain the proper guidance and support when working through an addiction treatment program. A treatment approach when working within the disease model will focus on long-term management and intervention. This viewpoint shifts from a punitive lens and moves towards a rehabilitative and restorative strategy that fosters compassion and empathy for anyone struggling with substance use disorders. As you are provided support from a caring, supportive place, you will have the ability to safely explore the underlying causes of your addictive behaviors and develop the appropriate strategies for maintaining long-term recovery. 

Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

There is often an intersectionality between addiction and mental illness. Co-occurring disorders are common for many living with a substance use disorder. Often when someone is living with a mental health disorder, they will turn to substances as a form of self-medication. However, this will often exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness while also increasing the severity of a substance use disorder. If someone is living with co-occurring disorders, the treatment that is provided must offer comprehensive treatment methods that target healing and effective coping strategies for managing both substance use disorders and mental health disorders. 

It is important to note that addiction is classified as a treatable mental health disorder due to the effects it can have on a person’s brain and behavior. The impacts on the brain and behavior will often lead to an inability to control your use of substances and an increase in erratic behaviors or altering moods. Understanding that addiction is a mental health disorder, provides insight into the integrated treatment approaches that are needed for effective treatment and recovery. 


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The Role of Genetics in Addiction Susceptibility

Genetic factors play a significant role in someone’s susceptibility to addiction. There are hereditary aspects that contribute to the development of addictive behaviors and individuals who are at a greater risk for addiction must be given proper, effective prevention and intervention strategies to ensure success in maintaining sobriety

Addiction research has found that certain genetic variations can increase the likelihood of addiction. The different genetic variations can influence how a person responds to substances and become dependent on substances. Understanding the genetic components of addiction can help to establish a treatment plan that considers the unique genetic makeup of a person to work towards effective, personalized coping strategies to ensure that you are equipped with the right tools for you physically and psychologically. 

Neurobiology of Addiction: What Happens in the Brain

There is a significant neurobiological aspect contributing to addiction that needs to be considered when examining whether addiction is a disease or a choice. Substance abuse is known to have intricate mechanisms within the brain that alter the neurotransmitter systems resulting in an imbalance in moods, motivation, and reward. As someone repeatedly engages in substance use, the brain’s adaptability, known as neuroplasticity, will experience structural and functional changes. These changes can reinforce the cycle of addiction and make it difficult for someone to end their use of substances without the proper therapeutic help from professionals. 

Debunking the Myth: Addiction as a Choice

The myth that addiction is a choice is imperative to challenge and debunk for there to be a greater understanding and sense of empathy for society as a whole. To gain a clearer understanding of addiction and break down the societal stigmas associated with addiction, it is important to recognize that addiction involves complex interactions between genetics, biology, and the environment. Research shows that substances significantly alter a person’s brain and impact the brain’s reward circuitry which results in compulsive drug-seeking behaviors. Although someone can be aware of the impacts of addiction, the influences that substances have on the brain can make it difficult to stop using substances and perpetuate the cycle of addiction. 

Muse Treatment’s Approach to Treating Addiction as a Disease

At Muse La Jolla addiction Treatment Center, we understand the delicate and intricate nature of addiction as a disease which is why our patients are offered a comprehensive approach to treatment and recovery. The individual nature and contributing factors to addiction require a personalized approach to treatment and recovery. This is why our team takes the time to get to know your unique history with addiction and develop a treatment plan that is based on your personal needs and goals for addiction treatment and recovery. Through evidence-based therapy, medical interventions or treatments, holistic approaches, and therapeutic supports, patients are supported in treating and healing from the multidimensional factors that have been contributing to their addiction. By acknowledging addiction as a disease, we utilize scientific findings, medical perspectives, and therapeutic lenses to create an effective, compassionate approach to healing and recovery. 


Addiction Treatment Center,Drug Detox,Drug Rehab,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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