Quick-Take: Is Addiction a Brain Disease?

Those suffering from addiction are up against not only their addiction, but also the stigma and shame that surrounds their suffering. Society often views the addict as someone who is immoral, weak, and selfish, focused only on their own pleasure.

At Stepworks, we have come to see that those suffering from addiction have much greater, deeper underlying brain issues. Understanding what is happening in the brain of those with a substance use disorder can help us understand addiction and why it really is a disease, not just a lack of moral direction.

As Drew Ingram discusses in the video, there are certain questions we need to ask ourselves as we begin to try to understand why addiction could be considered a disease.

What classifies something as a disease?

In its most basic form a disease is something that:

  1. Has distinguishing signs and symptoms
  2. Impairs normal functions

Why would addiction be classified as a disease?

1. Signs and symptoms:

  • Signs – Physicians and scientists have shown us that you can look at an FMRI and see the effects of addiction on the brain.
  • Symptoms – People with addictions feel less motivated, have intense cravings, and suffer from depression or intense anger.

2. Impairs normal functions:

  • Addiction causes major changes in the decision-making parts of the brain.
  • Logic and reason are impaired in the brain during addiction.

When compared to the definition of a disease, it is clear that those suffering from addiction actually suffer from a brain disease. Using what we know about the addictive brain and what we understand about the way diseases impact the patient can help us not only treat our patients but also shift the narrative around addiction. Understanding addiction as a disease can help our patients move from stigma and shame to awareness, understanding, and long-term sobriety methods.

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