There has been some controversy for some time now about the right way to label addiction, as pertains to what it actually is and how it actually manifest itself.  To throw some history in on it, in the mid-1990s, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA), introduced the idea that addiction is, was, and will always be a “brain disease.” NIDA explained around that same time that addiction is a “brain disease” state because it is tied to changes in brain structure and function.  The only thing though is that there is a lot more going on here than just brain function.

True enough though, the repeated use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol and nicotine do change the brain with respect to the intricate and very complex and very detailed circuitry involved in memory, anticipation and pleasure.  Some observers to these complexities consider addiction a form of learning, as people discover that a substance, or an activity, such as gambling, helps them assuage pain or elevate their mood, they form a strong attachment to it, kind of like humans have a strong attachment to food and water. Internally, synaptic connections strengthen in the human brain to form the association.

So there definitely is a connection between the brain and addiction.  This is true and has been proven by science.  But in all honesty, it could and would easily be argued that the critical question is not whether brain changes occur, (they do most definitely), but whether these changes block the factors that sustain self-control for people.

Where Does Addiction Come From, Really?

Is addiction truly beyond the control of an addict in the same way that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis are beyond the control of the afflicted?  Is addiction something that we really have no control over?

It is not. No amount of reinforcement or punishment can alter the course of an entirely autonomous biological condition like cancer, MS, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. Imagine bribing an Alzheimer’s patient to keep her dementia from worsening, or threatening to impose a penalty on her if it did.  Wouldn’t that be crazy?  When you really think about it, it’s actually quite ludicrous to state that addiction is something that those afflicted have absolutely no control over.

The whole idea here is that addicts do actually and in fact respond very, very well to consequences and rewards routinely. So while brain changes do occur, describing addiction as a brain disease is limited and misleading, and in a lot of ways is an, “easy way out”, because it gives addicts the justification, though it is a false one, to drop off responsibility for what they might have done while addicted.

A case in point is how individuals in very selective careers get treated when it comes to substance abuse and their jobs.  Take, for example, the case of physicians and pilots with drug or alcohol addictions. When these individuals are reported to their oversight boards because they are caught with an addiction of one degree or another, they are monitored closely for several years after they complete rehabilitation.  They are most definitely suspended for a period of time and return to work on probation and under strict supervision when they have complied rehab.

This is just one example that eradicates the idea that addiction is solely a brain ideas and listed below are a few other examples to consider:

1. A lot of problems abound from substance abuse. Few are as bad as youth substance abuse. When young adults abuse drugs and alcohol they run the risk of creating permanent damage upon their brains and central nervous systems, as these areas are still developing. Furthermore, young adults are far more likely to die from substance abuse than older adults are, and this happens all too frequently. Finally, young adults are more likely to attempt to get other people to abuse drugs and alcohol than older adults are, causing a faster proliferation of addiction.  However, though there is a big, “permanent”, risk to the brain of a teen from intensive drug abuse, the United States still sees thousands upon thousands of young adults emerge from rehab centers totally fine and recovered.  This would not be the case if they has serious brain problems as it often thought.

2. Convicted drug offenders are a great example of individuals who have total mental faculty and control over what they are doing.  Addiction is not just in the brain for them.  Unfortunately, it has become apparent that many substance abusers in the criminal justice system never receive the treatment they need though, and this is mostly because there is very little help and assistance available today for the addicted criminal.  A 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics, (BJS), survey found out for us that less than 1/5 of all incarcerated criminals with substance abuse problems received proper treatment for their addictions.  These untreated offenders are much more likely to relapse and become repeat offenders, costing the public more money and overwhelming the criminal justice system as it continues to tax the American residents.

How to Approach Addiction as it is Not Just a Brain Issue nor is it Just a Personality Issue

As it is now painstakingly obvious that addiction is a major issue of both the mind and body and personality and brain, it become apparent that a very involved and extensive handling and approach must be applied here.  This is definitely what is needed and wanted and it is needed and wanted as soon as is possible.  The best way to address addiction so that all factors are approached is through an inpatient, residential, drug and alcohol addiction and dependence treatment center, detox facility, rehab program, and recovery organization.  With help like this, it is actually possible and very doable to effectively address all mental, personal, physical, and psychological aspects of addiction once and for all.

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