Drug Addiction is Not a Choice

It is very easy for someone who does not struggle with addiction or who has never cared for or loved someone who had a drug addiction to dismiss the idea that addiction is a disease. The myth that becoming or staying addicted to drugs is a choice that people make is pervasive in spite of the research that has shown otherwise. While there will always be detractors in the scientific community, most current research indicates that addiction is a disease that afflicts some people and not others.

Who Would Choose this?

When people try to argue that drug addiction is a choice, they may cite the fact that no one is forced into trying cocaine, heroin, or meth for the first time. That may be true, however, there are many factors that lead to a person turning to drugs. Often, a user gets into drugs initially because of emotional problems, stress, pressure, or mental illness. Using drugs is not simply a black and white choice. There are many factors involved.

Many people who try drugs once or twice, never do so again, while others become addicts struggling for years to become clean again. There are many reasons why someone might try drugs, but there is no conceivable reason anyone would choose to become an addict. An addict is totally dependent upon their drug of choice. Their life comes crashing down in the wake of their need for it. Relationships suffer and sometimes disintegrate, health deteriorates, jobs are lost, some end up in jail, and many even become homeless. No one chooses this life.

Addiction is a Chronic Disease

In spite of a few holdouts who claim that addicts can simply make a choice to stop using and then just like that, they stop, most researchers have found evidence that addiction is, in fact, a disease that must be treated. Just on the surface, there are many similarities between addiction and other chronic medical diseases: both are highly heritable, meaning that they run in families; the beginning and course of both are influenced by the environment and behaviors, and both respond to long-term, appropriate treatment plans.

To explain the similarities, the National Institute on Drug Abuse compares addiction to cardiovascular disease. Both are dependent on environmental factors, for example. Addiction is affected by abuse, witnessing violence, peer pressure, stress, and availability. Cardiovascular disease is affected by stress, abuse, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Both diseases are also treated by lifestyle changes: making healthy choices, knowing family history, getting treatment, and reducing stress. If we consider cardiovascular disease to be a chronic illness, why not drug addiction?

More in-depth research by neurologists, geneticists, and other scientists indicate clear evidence that there is a biological difference between the brains of those who become addicted and those manage to escape addiction. Brain imaging techniques, for instance, show marked differences between the brains of people who are addicted and those of people who have always been sober. Geneticists have found genes in the DNA of people who are addicted that pinpoint a tendency to become dependent upon nicotine, heroin, and other substances.

Regardless of how an addiction begins and the choices made to reach that point, drug addiction is a disease. This does not mean that the addict is completely helpless. As with other chronic diseases, an addict must seek treatment, get support, and make positive lifestyle changes.