Before the United States was “one nation, under God”, before Lady Liberty lit up Ellis Island, and before our founding fathers signed off on the Declaration of Independence, addiction was present – and people knew it.
During the 1600’s, rum was introduced to America and was quickly denounced as being a negative influence on society. Just as quickly as it was denounced came an increase in rum consumption (1.7 million Americans consumed 7.5 millions gallons of rum in 1770 alone), followed by the development of distilleries and the exportation of the substance. By the time the Civil War was in full swing, Americans had their hands on morphine, which was primarily used to treat wounded soldiers. Not long after that did “the army disease” come about, which referred to morphine addiction in soldiers. At the turn of the century, cocaine hits America and Bayer begins selling heroin as a cough suppressant. After prohibition, the 1900’s are filled with new kinds of substances that are being discovered and created for recreational consumption. Today, we are once again faced with more substance abuse and addiction, but this time, more than ever before.
Regardless of what type of substance is being used, addiction is still an addiction. It is the same addiction that our ancestors grappled with, it’s what many of us are currently facing, and what we hope our children will never have to experience. After all these years, though, one thing is for sure — addiction is not a choice, but a disease.
Choice vs. Disease
Addiction being a choice or a disease has been a consistent topic of conversation for hundreds of years. In 1784, one of America’s founding fathers stated that addiction is a disease that requires professional treatment. In the 1930’s Bill W., who is now infamous for the development of the 12-Step program, followed on those coattails to inform the public that addiction is a disease that can be treated. And while many people have received treatment for addiction for hundreds of years, the stigma is still very much alive that when someone is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, he or she chose to be that way.
Think of addiction the way in which you would think of diabetes. Diabetes is defined as a “group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood”. This disease can be caused by a number of things, however, is primarily due to one’s genetics and/or environment. Some people simply develop diabetes because it runs in their families. Others develop diabetes because they have poor appetites and lack enough physical exercise. Addiction develops in the same way; an individual can be predisposed to addiction if it runs in his or her family. An individual can also be at greater risk for addiction based on the lifestyle he or she has (which can include living in a negative environment).
It is entirely understandable that many people view addiction as a disease because what it does to people causes so much pain and suffering. It is so easy to feel resentful of an addict, think that he or she does not care about anyone besides himself or herself, or that he or she keeps “choosing” to use. However, that is just not the case.
Why is Addiction Considered a Disease?
It is very rare in 2018 to find an adult who has not had an alcoholic beverage and/or experimented with some type of drug (e.g. marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens). However, all of those adults are not built the same. Some adults have no problems drinking alcohol responsibly or experimenting with a drug one time, but others do have problems doing just that. Those individuals are the ones with the “ism” as it is commonly referred to in treatment centers throughout the country.
Millions of people have made the choice to drink alcohol or experiment with a drug, there is no doubt about that. However, what some of those individuals do not choose is how their bodies and minds begin to rapidly change when the presence of drugs and alcohol are in their systems.
To put it as bluntly as possible, substance abuse changes the brain. Period. Through using drugs and/or alcohol, even if doing so minimally, an individual’s brain begins to react in a way where it releases several different chemicals in the brain. These chemicals (including dopamine) make an individual feel rewarded. Every time he or she uses, he or she experiences that same rewarding and satisfying feeling. However, with each consumption of alcohol and/or drugs results in changes in the brain that cause addiction to develop. For example, someone who has been casually using cocaine to get that rewarding feeling is likely to find that without cocaine, he or she is unable to feel those satisfying emotions on his or her own. That is because the brain has now become reliant on cocaine to produce that emotion.
Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain. Even when drugs and/or alcohol are no longer being consumed, the brain has changed in a way that makes individuals more likely to use again or be triggered to use. And, because of the impact that substances have had on the individual’s brain, his or her ability utilize willpower can become impaired.
However, that does not mean that an individual cannot receive treatment for the disease of addiction. Professional treatment allows these individuals to develop the ability to cope with triggers and utilize other skills to supplement their challenges with willpower.
Get Help Today
You or a loved one might be one of the many individuals who is currently struggling with drug addiction or alcoholism. If so, you are probably very familiar with the conversation surrounding if addiction is a choice or a disease. Please know that what you are experiencing is nothing to be ashamed of. You have a disease that can be treated. The only thing you need to do is remain determined to get better.
You are certainly not alone. Millions of people grapple with addiction on a regular basis. You do not need to continue to stay trapped in your addiction. We understand what you are going through and we are ready, willing, and able to help.
Do not wait around for one more second. Make the decision to get professional addiction treatment right now. By doing so, you can give yourself the second chance that you so deserve.
So call us right now. We can guide you down the path of recovery so that your active addiction is something that remains in the past.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.