March 20, 2023

Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

an image of people discussing if addiction is a disease

Drug addiction – substance use disorder – is a complicated and often misunderstood condition that has sparked debate and controversy for decades, especially when it comes to how it is defined and treated.

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The view that drug addiction is a sickness, a lack of willpower, or a moral failing has been largely replaced by the position that drug addiction is a disease. Today, the overwhelming majority of medical professionals and addiction experts agree that drug addiction is a disease that affects the brain and requires professional treatment.

In this guide, you can discover why addiction is a disease and learn about the science underpinning substance use disorder. We’ll also show you how you can connect with the professional drug addiction treatment you need.

How Does Substance Abuse Alters the Brain?

Drugs and alcohol have a powerful effect on the brain. They interact with the brain’s reward system – the nucleus accumbens – flooding it with dopamine, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that signals pleasure and reinforces behaviors. Over time, this area of the brain’s reward system becomes desensitized to these substances, increasingly more of the drug is required to achieve the initial effects. This often prompts a vicious cycle of drug-seeking behaviors and addiction in the form of substance use disorder.

The brain changes that occur with addiction are not limited to the reward system, though. Chronic drug use can also alter the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and judgment. Resultantly, drug addiction often leads to poor decision-making and impulsive behaviors, making it even more challenging to stop using drugs.

Why is Drug Addiction Considered a Disease?

How is addiction a disease?

Substance abuse is a disease because it meets the criteria for a medical condition. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences. It is a chronic condition that affects the brain’s reward and motivation systems, making it difficult to quit without professional treatment and support.

Like other chronic diseases, the disease of addiction can be managed but not cured. Even after a period of abstinence, those with substance use disorders are at a high risk of relapse, especially if they do not receive ongoing treatment and support. Relapse rates mirror those of other chronic conditions with up to 60% of those who engage with treatment relapsing once or more in their recoveries.

Viewing addiction as a chronic disease and providing evidence-based treatment that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction is key to curbing the rising rates of drug addiction and alcoholism in the United States.

Is Will-Power Enough to Overcome Addiction?

Some people believe that addiction is a choice and that those with addictions could quit if they just had enough willpower. This viewpoint is not only inaccurate but potentially damaging.

While willpower can play a crucial role in recovery, willpower alone is not usually enough to overcome addiction. Addiction changes the brain’s chemistry and alters decision-making and impulse control, making it difficult for those diagnosed with drug addictions to moderate or discontinue use.

Beyond this, detoxing from drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines can be life-threatening regardless of the strength of your willpower. Choosing to engage with evidence-based drug addiction treatment can help you build a firm foundation for sustained recovery and minimize the chance of relapse.


Is addiction considered a disease?

According to ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), addiction is a chronic brain disease that affects the reward, motivation, and memory systems of the brain. This disease causes individuals to seek out and use drugs or engage in certain behaviors despite the negative consequences. This view sees addiction as a chronic condition that requires ongoing management, much like other chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension.

Is addiction a disease or a disorder?

The disease model of addiction suggests that addiction is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, which interact to alter the brain’s functioning and lead to compulsive drug use or behavior. This view sees addiction as a chronic condition that requires ongoing management, much like other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. Some experts argue that addiction is a behavioral disorder rather than a disease. This perspective suggests that addiction is primarily caused by environmental and behavioral factors like social, psychological, and cultural influences rather than changes in the brain.

Why is addiction a disease?

Addiction is considered a disease because it is a chronic and often progressive condition that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory systems. The use of drugs or engagement in addictive behaviors changes the brain’s functioning, leading to compulsive drug use or behavior despite negative consequences. This change in brain function is a key characteristic of addiction. Addiction is also considered a disease because it can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, similar to other chronic illnesses.

Is drug addiction a brain disease?

Today, drug addiction is widely considered to be a brain disease. Addiction is a chronic and often relapsing disease that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory systems. Repeated drug use changes the structure and function of the brain, leading to compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences. Drug addiction is also associated with changes in the brain’s neurochemistry, including alterations in the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, a chemical messenger involved in the brain’s reward circuitry. Repeated drug use can also change the way that neural circuits in the brain communicate with each other, making it difficult for those with addictions to control their drug use or resist cravings to use drugs when they manifest.

Get Treatment and Support for Drug Detox and Rehabilitation at Gratitude Lodge

If you are addicted to illicit drugs, prescription medications, or alcohol, we can help you initiate a sustained recovery at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California.

Kickstart your recovery with our supervised medical detox program and streamline the intensity of drug withdrawal while minimizing the chance of complications or relape.. After drug detox, you can move directly into our  30-day inpatient program or IOP (intensive outpatient program), according to your circumstances and the severity of your substance use disorder.

If you have a drug addiction co-occurring with a mental health condition,, we offer dual diagnosis treatment programs that enable you to address both conditions simultaneously. 

All Gratitude Lodge treatment programs utilize a combination of science-based and holistic therapies that include:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapies
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Holistic therapies
  • Aftercare

When you are committed to recovery from drug addiction, call Gratitude Lodge at 888-861-1658. We are here to help you from detox to discharge and beyond.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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