Is Addiction a disease?

Drug Abuse, Addiction, & Treatment Methods

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What is addiction?

In the simplest terms, an addiction (such as a substance use disorder) is the strong compulsion to get, use, or perform something, whether the act is legal or otherwise.

Changes in the brain

Sex, gambling, alcohol, drugs and many other things in life are all addictive since they trigger the brain’s reward system – releasing “feel good” chemicals into the body such as dopamine.

These brain changes and other factors such as feeling more confident under the influence of drugs all contribute to the decision making behind addiction disease and the development of substance use disorders.

Substance abuse problem

Many people who crave a substance (or engage in any other addictive behaviors) will find it often comes with a series of negative consequences.

The way that addiction impacts a person is dependent on each individual and how diseases such as addiction manifest.

When people become addicted

For example, the acquisition and use of drugs is often a top priority for drug addicts with severe drug addiction. The process of finding and using drugs often comes to the detriment of the user.

A person might, for instance, put themselves at financial risk and conduct an illegal activity to acquire drugs.

Continual drug abuse and the use of substances will directly impact a person’s mental and physical health.

How addictions happen in the brain

Addiction gets described as a medical disorder by the scientific community.

Since using drugs or any other form of substance use alters brain chemicals – all this changes the way a person thinks, behaves and reacts to any given situation.

Substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medications and ‘everyday’ over-the-counter drugs, all fuel addiction.

While many other things are addictive, drugs (and the long-term use of drugs) do considerably more damage to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Is addiction a disease?

According to many medical communities such as the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a disease.

Like any other disease such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease – addiction is caused by a range of behavioral, environmental and biological factors.

Abuse treatment

People with drug addiction (or any other addiction) must receive treatment as soon as possible.

If addiction disease remains unresolved, it often results in a similar course of action to any other chronic illness (such as diabetes).

In short, a person will require medical intervention (including addiction treatment) for substance use and, if left untreated, could face life-threatening repercussions.

For example, heart disease and substance addiction get compared in many ways:

  • Addiction and heart disease both disrupt the normal functions of the body’s vital organs.
  • Substance use and heart disease can lead to decreased quality of life and early fatality increase.
  • Heart disease and addiction (and when a person continues to use drugs) are preventable if a person engages in a healthy lifestyle and avoids making poor choices.
  • They are both treatable diseases that require professional help and the support of health care providers (and the users family members) to overcome.

Addiction is not always a substance use problem.

Many non-life-threatening addictions such as sex and gambling (known as behavioral addictions) and becoming addicted to these risky behaviors won’t necessarily damage a person’s physical health.

However, behavioral addictions are equally as damaging to an individual’s mental health and often affect their perspective on the world and how they manage their daily lives.

It takes just as much willpower to combat a behavioral addiction (such as gambling and sex addiction) as it does to overcome other addictions such as an opioid use disorder and other drug abuse.

How substance abuse changes the brain’s chemistry

Most people enjoy anything pleasurable.

It’s human instinct to pursue the release of positive endorphins in the body and replicate these short-term ‘highs’ for as long as possible.

All this is understandable – especially since the highs experienced (mainly when people take drugs for the first time) often feel incredibly good. 

For an individual with long-term drug addiction (such as alcohol or drugs), using substances regularly makes them feel normal.

Addictive behavior changes the brain.

Winning a bet through gambling, for instance, may feel great at the time as it sets of endorphins and dopamine – all chemicals that get released during sex and when a person takes drugs.

Risk factors

However, most addictions such as substance use disorders often cause the brain to release unusually high levels of “feel good” chemicals associated with the brain’s pleasure center and reward system.

Over time, the continual release of these chemicals (particularly in high volumes) changes the brain’s makeup affecting other areas of brain function such as motivation, memory and levels of aggression.

Substances like alcohol and drugs cause a considerable release of pleasure chemicals to the brain.

Therefore, an addict’s brain may stop producing these natural feelings of reward, meaning that when a person comes off drugs and stops using, their body no longer has natural levels of endorphins (including dopamine).

National institute on drug abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and drugs on the American nation exacts an annual cost of $740 billion.

Some of these costs include crime, lost work productivity and healthcare due to addiction-related issues. According to the American Psychiatric Association, many people experience a substance use disorder alongside a psychiatric disorder.

Often, those with psychiatric disorders who abuse substances may also experience a worsening of their symptoms (sometimes, the use of a substance may also trigger a psychiatric disorder).


All this can lead to mental health issues and behavior problems, including depression, anxiety and a heightened sense of stress, which is equally damaging to the body as drug use.

Anyone who has experienced similar brain changes will know that these changes exist for a long time, even if the person stops using substances altogether.

An estimated 25 to 50 per cent of individuals with drug addiction or substance use disorder often demonstrate severe and chronic addiction disease.

Contact an admissions

Contact Tikvah Lake Recovery today for a chance to speak to one of our addiction treatment specialists. Help is waiting.

What are the signs of addiction?

For people addicted to substances, the signs of addiction are a lot more evident than someone experiencing a behavioral addiction such as sex addiction. Some of the symptoms associated with addiction include:

  • Drastic weight gain or weight loss. 
  • Changes in behavior and personal hygiene.
  • Dilated pupils or red eyes. 
  • Slurred speech and erratic behavior.
  • An increase (or change) in anger, irritability and aggression.
  • Rapid mood swings.
  • Loss of motivation, low self-esteem or memory loss.
  • Social isolation and financial problems.
  • Sudden involvement in criminal activity. 

There are many other signs of addiction and substance use disorders to watch for, and for someone who feels addicted, there are many symptoms, too.

How to overcome an addiction disease

There is no ‘magic cure’ for addiction, such as drug addiction.

Regardless of your approach to overcoming addiction, it will likely be something that you have to manage and maintain throughout the rest of your life.

One proven method for conquering addiction is finding a ‘reward replacement’ that can replace the craving for drugs, alcohol, and other dangerous and addictive substances.

Treatment programs

Many recovering addicts turn to exercise and other exertion activities that offer them a healthy, enjoyable and rewarding alternative to drug use and other harmful substances. 

Some people only suffer mild addictions to certain substances or behaviors, and many people in this category can cut back or stop altogether.

Often, the rewards of not using outweigh those of using that people decide to stop.

However, in more severe cases – addiction treatment requires more extreme intervention, including therapy treatments, rehabilitation and, in some instances, prescribed medication.    

Treating addiction disease and seeking help

Treatment for addiction (such as substance abuse) exists worldwide and comes in many forms – from seeking therapy to detoxing to support groups. 

There’s something for everyone trying to overcome an addiction (whether it be from alcohol or drug abuse).

Substance abuse treatment

The critical priority when overcoming an addiction is managing withdrawal symptoms. 

All this involves mitigating any adverse psychological effects such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

Treatment may also involve addressing any stigma that is often associated with addiction.

Co-occurring disorders and trauma

Co-occurring disorders are common when it comes to addiction disease. 

When a person attempts to overcome an addiction, whether that be from a substance or behavioral activity, they must first confront any pre-existing psychological trauma, which likely led them to addiction in the first place.


If you or a loved one feel as though you may be addicted to a specific substance or behavior and are struggling to gain control over it, it is never too early (or too late) to seek the help you need.

Get in touch

At Tikvah Lake Recovery, we offer specialist, personalized rehabilitation treatment programs that help you overcome your addiction disease, allowing you to become a happier, healthier version of yourself, one that has control over your addictions.

While getting help might feel intimidating, we aim to make you feel as comfortable as possible when entering one of our treatment programs.

Recovery from addiction involves willpower, the right support and help combined with accurate information to help you stay on the path of long-term recovery.

Whether you think addiction is a disease or not, it’s clear that severe cravings for substances or the need to engage in particular behaviors (such as gambling) come with many negative consequences.

We are here to help people work through any challenges they may have and avoid relapse. 

Contact an admissions

Contact Tikvah Lake Recovery today for a chance to speak to one of our addiction treatment specialists. Help is waiting.