Substance Use

Is Addiction a Choice or Not?

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Is addiction a choice? The question often stirs up a heated debate in various circles. Some argue that it is a choice, while others firmly hold that it’s a disease. Here, we’ll explain why addiction should be taken more seriously as a disease as a result of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.

To tackle this issue, it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of what addiction involves, the myths surrounding it, and the scientific evidence backing each perspective.

This article will delve into the complexities of addiction, highlighting its nature as a disease rather than a choice.

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What is Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing disorder that involves compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It’s characterized by long-lasting changes in the brain, which can lead to harmful behaviors. 

It’s essential to examine the nature of addiction and the factors that contribute to its development. Addiction is multifaceted, involving a combination of factors including:

  • Genetic
  • Environmental
  • Personal

Addiction as a Choice

The view of addiction as a choice comes from the initial voluntary act of taking a substance. Indeed, no one is forced to start smoking, drinking, or using drugs. It’s a decision that one makes, often without fully understanding the potential health consequences.

The choice theory of addiction often lacks empathy for the individual struggling with addiction, as it implies that they could simply choose to stop using if they wished. It also overlooks the role of biological and environmental factors that contribute.

Addiction as a Disease

The disease model of addiction presents that addiction is a brain disease that affects behavior. This view is supported by scientific evidence showing changes in brain structure and function in individuals with addiction.

These changes can result in:

  • Intense cravings
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Compulsive drug use

The disease model also explains why addiction is not a choice for many individuals. Over time, repeated drug use can alter the brain in ways that make quitting extremely difficult, even for those who want to.

Furthermore, this model supports the use of medical treatments to manage addiction, much like how other diseases are treated.

Here’s the Fact: Addiction is a Disease, not a Choice

Addiction is not a matter of weak willpower or moral failing. It’s a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory functions. Just as you wouldn’t blame someone for getting cancer, it’s equally unjust to blame someone for becoming addicted.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a disease that affects the brain’s reward system. This leads to dysfunction in physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being.

It’s a complex condition, often progressive and fatal, manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.

People suffering from addiction often have distorted:

  • Thinking
  • Behavior
  • Body functions

Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the substance, even when it’s causing harm. Understanding addiction as a disease can help remove the stigma attached to it and encourage more people to seek treatment.

The Risk Factors for Addiction

Like any other chronic disease, addiction doesn’t occur in isolation. It’s the result of various risk factors that interplay to make an individual susceptible.

These risk factors can be broadly divided into biological and environmental categories. Each person’s unique genetic makeup and life experiences contribute to their vulnerability or resilience to addiction.

Biological Factors

Your genes account for about half of your addiction risk. Genetic predisposition doesn’t mean that you’re bound to become an addict, but it increases your susceptibility. The way your body metabolizes a substance, your physical response to the substance, and how quickly you develop tolerance can all be influenced by your genes.

Co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can also increase your risk. Substance use can be a form of self-medication for these conditions, but it often exacerbates the symptoms.

The changes in brain function resulting from chronic substance use can further contribute to mental health issues.

Your age and stage of development can also play a role in addiction risk. Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable because their brains are still developing, which can lead to lasting changes in brain function.

Environmental Factors

These are the circumstances of your life – where you live, who you live with, and what you’ve been through. Your environment significantly influences your substance use risk.

Environmental factors that can contribute to addiction include:

  • High-stress environments
  • Exposure to drugs
  • Lack of familial support
  • Peer influence

Early exposure to substances can normalize drug use and increase the likelihood of addiction later in life. Additionally, traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect in childhood can make a person more vulnerable to substance use disorders.

Socioeconomic factors can also increase the risk of addiction, such as:

  • Poverty
  • Lack of access to quality education
  • Lack of quality healthcare 

Treatment Options for Addiction

Recognizing addiction as a disease necessitates a focus on treatment. Just as you would seek medical help for heart disease or diabetes, addiction too requires professional treatment. 

Treatment plans are tailored to each individual’s needs and can include a combination of:

  • Detoxification
  • Medication
  • Counseling
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, plenty of resources are available to help, including therapy, medications, and peer support groups. Contact Zinnia Health 24/7 at (855) 430-9439.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is not a choice in the traditional sense – no one chooses to get addicted. Understanding this can help us to shed the stigma associated with addiction and to approach it with empathy and compassion.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there’s no shame in seeking help. There are numerous treatment options available, and recovery is entirely possible.

Author: Calvin Anderson, PharmD, MBA. Calvin is a graduate of Cedarville University with both a pharmacist and business degree. He has a passion for specialty infusion and injectable pharmacy. He gladly serves patients with empathy and compassion to ensure they receive the best quality care.


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