Understanding Drug Addiction
- Addiction is not about drugs.
- Addiction is not caused by moral failure.
- Addiction is not a lack of willpower.
- Addiction is not a choice.
- Addiction is an undeniable craving.
- Addiction is a chronic disease.
There is much to understand from a medical and social perspective regarding how illegal or legal substance addiction is a relapsing or chronic disease rather than a single decision. Addiction begins from altered brain function, often related to genetic predisposition, and causes changes in the brain that perpetuate addiction.
Excluding nicotine addiction, approximately 25 million United States citizens are addicted to drugs. This is a similar number to those people with diabetes. The reward system in the brain is important to survival, usually driving a person to seek food and a mate. However, addictive drugs engage the reward system much more strongly.
Eventually, the person must have the drug, not for pleasure, but for survival. This may seem like an exaggeration, however, consider what symptoms occur in withdrawal. Lasting hours to weeks, the person in withdrawal experiences flu-type symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, tremors, heart palpitations, hypertension, insomnia or nightmares, and additional, drug-specific symptoms. Anyone experiencing these unpleasant symptoms feels driven to do whatever is necessary to feel well, or at least not feel sick.