Why Addiction Is A Disorder Published June 05, 2021 By Addiction Helpline America

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Why Addiction Is A Disorder

The reason why addiction is a disorder is due to a number of factors. It's been labeled a disorder by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and the American Medical Association (AMA). They see it as a disease of the brain. This means addiction has been recognized as a medical condition that deserves the same insurance cover, treatment and evaluation that other diseases receive. This addiction disorder definition has been accepted by many addiction experts.

Not everyone agrees that addiction is a 'real' disease deserving of the same attention as other chronic ailments. However, below are some compelling reasons why addiction is a disorder linked to brain disfunction.

1. Addiction Disrupts Brain Action

A chronic disease alters the way an organ operates. So, in much the same way as heart disease changes the way the heart operates, addiction brain disorder makes disruptive changes to the functioning of the brain. Both disorders develop overtime but can be treated and controlled for the patient to get any respite.

Researchers who compared the brain images of people with drug addictions and those without, saw stark differences in brain makeup and functionality. In addicts, they observed changes in the frontal cortex of the brain, that part of the brain that regulates impulsivity and gratification, including rewards, decision-making and judgement.

These changes impede the capacity of the cortex to do its job, thereby reducing the person's self-control abilities, while also sending strong signals to them to continue using the drug.

The changes can strengthen memories or cues that are strongly associated with the drug, like which places to revisit to get the most pleasurable high. They can also reinforce memories of what it's like, physically, to be without the drug.

These cues can impact the brain powerfully whether you've been abstinent for just a few days, or if you've been abstinent for many years, and they may lead to a relapse. These brain changes therefore indicate that addiction is a disease that develops overtime.

These are the addiction disorder symptoms, according to ASAM:

  • Inability to abstain without breaks
  • Diminished behavioral control
  • Intense and increased craving for drugs and the high they give
  • Diminished ability to see the harm being wrought by the addictive behavior
  • Absenteeism from school or work
  • Compulsion to use despite harmful results
  • Unwillingness to seek help
  • Preoccupation with obtaining, using and recovering from the substance.
  • Difficulty pinpointing feelings and expressing them
  • Increase in anxiety.

2. Addiction is Shaped by Numerous Factors

Although brain structures aid our understanding of why addiction is a disorder, they don't explain this phenomenon fully on their own. Diseases are not explained by one factor alone.

The same applies to addiction brain disorder. Other factors that are looked at are genetics and environmental issues..

It is the interaction of these factors with the biological factor that explain why some but not all the people who experiment with drugs develop an addiction disease.

They contribute to our understanding of addiction as a disorder and they inform targeted and personalized treatment procedures.

Addiction disorder symptoms are handled in a similar way to other chronic disorders. When a person enters a treatment facility for the first time, they are assessed to discover how a range of factors may have fueled their addiction.

A questionnaire is filled in and tests are done. Then an individualized treatment plan is made out that takes into account family background as well as other trigger factors. The addiction disorder treatment plan may be tweaked if changes are noted. This way, the multiple needs of the individual are dealt with.

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3. Addiction Requires Clinical Treatment

As a chronic disorder, addiction requires clinical treatment and medication otherwise the physical and mental problems associated with it become worse in the long-term. It's an abnormal disorder that develops overtime and if left untreated can have drastic effects like drug overdose and death.

Addiction disorder treatment starts with a professionally-supervised detox to wash the substance out. It may involve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that most people cannot handle on their own so it happens in a clinical setting under round-the-clock medical supervision. For best results, this detox is followed by rehab, also in a clinical setting.

4. Addiction is Treated with Medication

Disorders are effectively treated with medication. So it is with the disease of addiction. Medication helps manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse and death.

Agonists such as buprenorphine and methadone can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse, while naltrexone can have a blocking effect on opioids.

Together they help the brains functions to stabilize. Though the brain is always changing and it can never go back to its pre-addiction state, the medication does help restore the self-control impulses in the brain that were disrupted by the disease of addiction.

People may have to continue taking some form of medication in the long-term.

Like other brain disorders, addiction disorder treatment works well when medication is combined with group and individual therapy. This helps patients understand their triggers, address other mental problems, build self-esteem and develop coping mechanisms.

As a chronic disorder, addiction can be interspersed with relapses, so a short once-off treatment process won't work. A longer treatment plan is required so the disease can be properly managed.

The recommended treatment duration is 90 days or more. Even after addiction disorder treatment, if patients are not ready to return home yet, they can attend a sober living home to consolidate lessons learned in rehab.

This disorder requires ongoing and long-term help after treatment so that sobriety can be maintained and relapses warded off.

5. Many Don't Recover on their Own

Critics of the addiction disorder definition say that addiction cannot be a disease if others are able to recover without formal addiction disorder treatment, and may even resume their drug-taking, but at a lower level.

However, while this may be the case, in more moderate situations, people with severe forms of addiction do not recover unaided. They are dealing with a chronic disorder which has made them very ill.

That's why in order to survive and achieve a sense of normalcy, they need to undergo intensive clinical treatment involving medication, and to follow this up with ongoing strategies to help manage the disease for the rest of their lives. They are never cured of the addiction disorder. They can relapse at any time.So, they cannot return to controlled use.

Many do not seek treatment because of cost and unavailability of services or because of the stigma surrounding addiction.

Others are afraid of withdrawal symptoms that come with quitting. This is underlined by the fact that over 170 people die daily from drug overdoses.

Findings are that when opioid addiction is identified and treated like a chronic worsening disease, outcomes are significantly improved and when people are kept in treatment, there's a higher chance of abstinence.

6. Addiction Robs People of Willpower

Critics who say that addiction is not a disorder per se argue that it's a choice that people make, which they can unmake at any time but choose not to because they are weak-minded, or morally deficient.

However, choice is not a factor when people have addiction disorder. It robs them of their willpower.

Initially, people may take the drug out of choice and out of a feeling that they can manage their use, but overtime, more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the high they felt when they first started.

At the same time, changes are happening in the brain that accelerate this compulsion. The disease of addiction is setting in.

Other contributing factors are family background in addiction, or untreated mental health problems such as anxiety and depression which may make some people more prone to addiction than others.

But once the brain submits to the power of addiction, and is changed by it, choice or willpower virtually seizes.

The people concerned have lost control over their substance use, and with it, control over their behavior.

If they try to stop using, the brain may try to shield them from the horrors of withdrawal symptoms by signaling to them to continue.

Every day, people make innocent personal choices about a host of things that can result in chronic disorders in much the same way as substance users do.

For instance, one person may choose to eat certain unhealthy foods every day, while another may opt to lay for hours on end in the sun.

Overtime these initial personal choices turn into serious disorders - heart disease on the one hand and skin cancer on the other.

Addiction disrupts a vital organ of the body - the brain. It needs treatment and medication to be successfully managed.

That's why addiction is a disorder. Those that argue that it is not a disorder and therefore not deserving of taxpayers' money, may actually serve as a stumbling block to patients who need urgent care, and they may also impede any progress being made in treatment measures

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