Addiction is a Chronic, Treatable, Brain Disease

The addiction disease model defines drug and alcohol addiction as a unique, irreversible and progressive disease that cannot be cured, but can be arrested through abstinence.  There is evidence that, in certain individuals, each incidence of substance abuse chemically alters the brain causing them to become dependent on the substance.  The disease model demonstrates a progressive process where, over time, people with addiction experience powerful cravings and when they don’t respond quickly enough, strong and sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms occur.  Continued use can also result in irreversible damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and other vital organs.

People facing drug and alcohol addiction cannot control their need for alcohol or other drugs, even in the face of negative health, social or legal consequences. This lack of control is the result of alcohol or drug-induced changes in the brain.  Those changes, in turn, cause behavior changes.

Alcohol and drug addiction causes many changes in the brain. The brains of addicted people “have been modified by the drug in such a way that absence of the drug makes a signal to their brain that is equivalent to the signal of when you are starving,” says National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow.  It is “as if the individual was in a state of deprivation, where taking the drug is indispensable for survival.  It’s as powerful as that.”

Addiction grows more serious over time.  Substance abuse disorders travel along a continuum.  This progression can be measured by the amount, frequency and context of a person’s substance use.  As their illness deepens, addicted people need more alcohol or drugs; they may use more often and use in situations they never imagined when they first began to drink or take drugs.  The illness becomes harder to treat and the related health problems, such as organ disease, become worse.

The good news is, there is treatment.  It begins when the individual suffering from alcohol or drug addiction admits there is a problem. The next step is meeting with a physician or addiction specialist who will prescribe an addiction recovery treatment plan based on the patient’s specific needs.

Ideally, the patient suffering from the disease of drug or alcohol addiction will also participate in a lifelong recovery treatment program of support, as addiction is a chronic disease and, while it can be controlled, it cannot be cured.  At its most basic form, the disease model of addiction identifies the causes, prescribes a treatment and is sustained through ongoing support, as follows:

Causes for the addiction:

  • Abnormal traits inherent in the individual
  • Constitutional disease or disorder

Treatment for the addiction:

  • Identification and confrontation of the addiction disease
  • Medical intervention & help
  • Lifelong abstinence/sobriety

Support for the addiction:

  • Peer Groups, i.e., Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), etc.