Is Drug Addiction a Choice?

No one ever makes the conscious decision to become addicted to anything. Through a series of events, whether it’s early exposure to drugs as a child or adolescent, prescription medication use which grows out of control, recreationally “trying it out,” or even situations of peer pressure, drugs can enter someone’s life. This possibility of drug use – entirely unwanted, but mixed with a bad set of circumstances, as well as the science behind the drug’s influence on the brain – has caused many to reconsider the concept of drug addiction and classify it no longer as a choice, but a disease. 

Drug addiction as a disease

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs.” 

The source further discusses drug addiction’s similarities to heart disease, as both “disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death.” 

Drug addiction, because of the impact drug use has on the brain’s functioning, especially in regards to pleasure, self-control and stress receptors, can be qualified as a disease.

Why do people choose drugs in the first place?

Typically, the first time drugs are used it is not with the intention of becoming addicted. In the case of opioids, the drug may have been administered in a controlled manner, such as via a prescription for pain medication. In other circumstances, drugs might be used to stimulate certain feelings, such as those of relaxation, contentment or increased energy; as an alternative to intense depression, anxiety or grief; as a means of increasing focus or clarity; or simply out of curiosity or a means of fitting in. 

For many, feelings of pleasure or excitement surround first-time drug use – some view the experience of using drugs with positivity. Initially, people are confident in their ability to control the drug and their use of it. However, what frequently occurs is the drug’s hostile takeover of the brain, leaving the individual utterly defenseless and with the uncontrollable need to use the drug again and again. Their perception of normal becomes so skewed, they feel sick without the drug and content when it’s in their system. 

Drug addiction is not a choice

While the initial decision to use drugs was most likely a choice, the consequence of addiction as a result of continued usage was not a choice. This is because drugs literally alter the frontal cortex, that is, the region of the brain used for self-control, logical thinking, goal setting, organizing and planning. “Numerous MRI studies have documented that addictive drugs cause volume and tissue composition changes in this region and that these changes are likely associated with abusers’ cognitive and decisionmaking problems.” 

What this means is one of the most important parts of the brain used for self-control is compromised – physically altered – by the drugs. Undoubtedly, this is not a choice on the part of the individual, and many would prefer this not occur. Because of this alteration, the individual has little say over the drug’s influences, which is why those struggling with addiction experience immense difficulty in stopping on their own and will continue to use even when they know it’s putting their life in danger. 

Battling the disease of drug addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with a drug addiction, two things need to be done – first, remember that the addiction is a disease, and needs to be medically handled as such; second, begin looking for a treatment center right away, as the sooner the addiction is treated, the better off the individual will be and the shorter the road to recovery. 

While there is no one medication or method of recovery guaranteed to heal the disease of drug addiction, treatment continues to be the best way to safely detox the body and thereby put the body into a stable state before mental healing can begin. Each route of treatment differs based on the needs of the individual and the severity/length of drug usage, making the individuality of treatment equally important. 

With treatment centers such as Rehab After Work, not only will the unique needs of the individual be taken into consideration, but with a holistic approach on healing both the body and mind, the strength of the addiction will be broken and recovery of the brain will be possible.

For further help and information, call us today at 610-644-6464.