Addiction is often seen as a choice, and it is to an extent, but to solely view it from this lens would be a mistake. Addiction is a disease, and disease is not a choice. Many, but not all, medical institutions have adopted this label for addiction, despite the popular belief that addiction is not a disease.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes involuntary usage of substances, such as drugs, alcohol or other activities that are not substances. As a chronic disease, those suffering from addiction may relapse just as people other diseases can.
And, just like chronic diseases, addicts may have been predisposed to becoming addicted due to their genetics. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “Genetic risks factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.”
Yet, a predisposition to addiction does not explain why an addict started using in the first place. So what does?
In the case of drugs or alcohol, people usually don’t just wake up one morning and decide they want to start down the path of addiction for only a few hours of enjoyment. In most cases, addicts first started using because they wanted to relieve pain or boredom, or they were pressured into it, according to drugfreeworld.org.
However, people can also become addicted to prescription medication, sometimes without meaning to. Some drugs, such as opioids like oxycodone, are extremely addictive and can cause people with prescriptions to become addicted even if they aren’t abusing their medications. And, even if an individual purposefully abused their medication, his/her addiction would be continuously fueled by repeated refills from doctors and pharmacies until they have sustained permanent damage.
Being an active addict has been proven to decrease brain function, and continual use further damages the brain, according to Recovery Research Institute (RRI). These damages can take many forms, such as seizures, heart attacks and personality changes that may lead to incarceration or ruined interpersonal relationships, according to Options Behavioral Health System. RRI continues that abstaining from drug or alcohol use increases brain function, though it may not operate at the same ability a sober person’s brain might, and reduce these effects.
It is possible to apply for disability for an addiction to help overcome the many obstacles associated with it, but the rules and regulations are very strict. Addiction can affect the decision to accept any other disability one may have if the addiction is deemed causal of the disability, if it is not the disability being applied for, according to Disability Benefits Help.
Although it may have been a user’s choice to start doing drugs, no one anticipates falling into the toxic patterns of repeated drug use. Addicts should not be scorned for succumbing to the disease that is addiction, but supported so that they may one day return to society drug-free.
If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, the toll free national helpline for abuse, 1-800-662-HELP, is open at all hours to refer callers to local treatment facilities and provide support.