Addiction Is a Progressive Disease

istock_000012354150xsmall“Why doesn’t he just stop drinking?” “Why does she keep using heroin if she knows the consequences?” People can ask these questions when they see someone struggling with substance abuse—they may think that if a person recognizes the dangers, they should be able to stop. But it’s not that simple.

Addiction is not a choice that is made and can be stopped by the simple desire to quit. Research has shown that addiction is a disease. It affects the brain in staggering ways, making the cravings and the reliance on drugs or alcohol involuntary.

Most drugs target the reward center of the brain. When someone uses a drug, dopamine is released and floods their brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals pleasure and reward. When an action causes dopamine levels to rise, the person is motivated to repeat that action. In this case, when the use of a drug causes a person to feel pleasure, they are motivated to use the drug again to replicate the feeling. Compulsive cravings start occurring, and the person becomes addicted.

Over the long term, the flood of dopamine from the use of drugs or alcohol causes the brain to slow the natural production of dopamine and/or reduce its response to the dopamine. This can further the addiction, as the person now needs the drug to feel pleasure and happiness.

Addiction not only affects and alters the reward center of the brain but also causes changes to other parts of the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of drugs and alcohol affects the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, habits, impulse inhibition, decision making, cognitive awareness, mood, and stress reactivity. These changes to a person’s brain chemistry can contribute to the continuing use of drugs and alcohol. It is hard for an addicted person to simply use “willpower” to quit when so many vital cognitive functions have been affected.

rrw2016-ribbonThis Red Ribbon Week (October 23–31), Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers want to encourage others to recognize that addiction is a disease, not a choice, and to take steps to reduce both the stigma and the problem. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, remember that it is not as simple as just making the decision to quit. As with other diseases, professional help is often needed to recover. For more information about the effects of drug abuse and treatment options, visit RecoverGateway.org.

About Gateway Treatment Centers
Every year Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment helps thousands of adults and teens get their life back on track and gives renewed hope to those who care about them. With more than 40 years of treatment experience, our specialists take the time to understand of the specific needs of each individual. We then develop a customized treatment plan with recommendations for the most appropriate care based on an individual's substance abuse and mental health history. As the largest provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment in Illinois, Gateway has eight treatment centers throughout the state. Gateway outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size fits all, but unique treatment plans that give an individual the highest chance for a successful outcome. With insurance acceptance and a track record of success, Gateway Treatment Centers help thousands of individual’s successfully complete treatment each year, and find the hope they need to live again.

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