What is addiction? Is it a mental illness, or a physical disease? The answer to this question has changed over the years. Popular movies and the news often portray addiction as a negative personality trait or weakness that only affects immoral, dangerous people. Others suggest that it is purely a physical addiction that someone can just quit when they want to.
But claims like those are incredibly dangerous and disingenuous to people who are suffering from addiction. The truth is – addiction can affect anyone. We are all potentially susceptible to the powers of physical addiction.
What is addiction then? Is it a physical disease or mental illness? Based on our experience, it can be both.
What Is Addiction – And What Causes It?
Addiction is caused by our brains becoming physically dependent on certain substances. Substances impact the way the brain functions by regulating the release of certain chemicals like dopamine. Our brains usually regulate the flow of these chemicals, but substances have the power to change the type of these chemicals that flow in our bodies, and the way our brain behaves when exposed to them. They do this by rewiring the reward structure our brain relies on.
The brain of an individual who drinks or takes drugs frequently will quickly become addicted to these feelings. The constant feeling of pleasure is addicting, and it becomes difficult to function when it suddenly stops.
This part of addiction is the physical part (the disease). Our bodies become so addicted to substances that we cannot function without the. Addicted individuals may even suffer fatal consequences if those substances are no longer available.
Doesn’t that mean it’s a physical disease?
So then is addiction a purely physical disease? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why people start drinking and doing drugs. These include:
- To pursue pleasure (get high)
- To avoid pain (relieve stress and anxiety)
- Improve performance (enhancement)
- For a sense of belonging (Peer pressure)
Many Americans drink and have tried drugs at least once. The decision to use drugs doesn’t necessarily imply mental illness, and non-addicted people can engage in recreational drug use without becoming addicted.
But – using substances carries risk and can cause addiction in otherwise normal people, which can lead someone to develop mental illness.
According to leading mental health resource Help Guide, “50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.”
Help Guide goes on to say that…
- Some people abuse substances to cope with mental health problems. They may use them to cope with an undiagnosed mental illness such as stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other conditions. Whatever the reasons, this can lead to addiction and to their conditions worsening.
- Substances can amplify existing mental disorders in some people. Mental illnesses are complex by nature because they involve the most complex organ in our body (the brain). Substances can cause new behaviors, which can build on existing mental illness and lead to even more serious side effects.
Does It Matter?
If you are currently suffering from an addiction, it doesn’t matter if substance abuse is a physical or mental disease as much as it matters that you get the help you need. Millions of Americans are affected by addiction, and the Opioid crisis and other addictions leads to people dying every day.
The best thing you can do if you are suffering from substance abuse is to seek professional help. Residential treatment centers like Carus Recovery specialize in providing you with the care you so badly need.
Our residential treatment center focuses on your addiction, helping you develop a personalized recovery plan, and working with you to promote positive change in your life.
Are you an individual struggling with addiction, or do you know someone who does? Contact the Carus Recovery team today by calling 877-225-7724. Our team of addiction and recovery specialists is here for you, and we have the resources to help you make meaningful changes to help you on your path to recovery.