4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

4 Reasons Addiction Is Considered a Disease

The National Institute on Drug Abuse[i] calls addiction a complex brain disease that changes the brain in ways that encourage drug abuse in spite of negative consequences. Drug addiction is not simply a battle of the will over whether or not someone will continue to abuse a substance of choice; rather, the longer substance abuse continues, the more the need for that substance dominates normal brain activity. As a result, drug and alcohol addictions share many characteristics with to other chronic diseases that require medical treatment. Ergo, if you understand the way addiction transforms the brain to cause a physical dependence upon the drug of choice, then you can help yourself or a loved one prevent drug dependence. With that knowledge, you can also get proper treatment for the condition should it ever happen. To get started, learn the following 4 reasons that addiction is considered a disease:

Addiction Has a Genetic Component

People who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction often have a family history of the disease, which indicates a genetic component to the development of addiction. In the same way that certain cancers run in families, genetics plays an important role in whether or not someone will struggle with substance abuse in her life. Other factors—such as poor coping skills, environment and the age at which substance abuse began—also contribute to family history of drug abuse. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.[ii], while no addiction “gene” has been located, a number of genetic and biological factors make people more vulnerable to addiction than other people. In short, although anyone can succumb to addiction, genetics makes up 50 percent of the risk for developing this disease.

Environment Increases the Likelihood of Addiction

As with other chronic diseases, the risk of addiction can increase depending upon a person’s environment. For instance, the younger a child is when he his first  drugs or alcohol, the more likely he is to become an addict as an adult. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse[iii], the following environmental risk factors also contribute to addiction:

  • Stress early on in life, which includes being abused as a child, living in poverty or exposure to some other sort of trauma
  • Prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol
  • General lack of parental supervision and involvement in school activities and homework
  • Consistent exposure to other people who abuse drugs and alcohol, especially family members

As a result of these factors, recovering addicts often need residential treatment programs to change their environments enough to foster successful, long-term recoveries.

Other Illnesses Can Contribute to or Cause Addiction

Like diseases that tend to go hand-in-hand with each other, addiction can stem from co-occurring disorders. One of the biggest factors that contribute to drug and alcohol addiction is undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses. Like drug addiction, mental illness often runs in families, so it can be difficult for an addiction specialist to determine whether a mental illness causes addiction or whether the addiction caused a dormant mental illness to surface. Regardless of that debate, co-occurring disorders are addressed the best in facilities that specialize in Dual Diagnosis treatment. Such care involves mental health attention and rehab at the same time. If you treat both disorders with the right medications and psychotherapies, then you can greatly increase the chances for a successful recovery.

Along with those who have co-occurring disorder, people who struggle with conditions that cause chronic pain are often more susceptible to drug addiction. The opiate medications that doctors commonly use to control pain are highly habit forming, so, without adequate physician supervision, these pain medicines can lead to addiction.

Substances of Choice Can Increase Addiction Risk

Certain substances have a higher addiction risk than others. For example, crack, heroin and cocaine can result in addiction more quickly than prescription pain medications can, mostly due to how quickly the drugs get into the system. People who are addicted to drugs need more of the substance to achieve the same level of experience, so, the faster the drug gets into the blood stream, the faster more of the drug is needed to maintain the high. Medical News Today[iv] also notes that the time it takes to metabolize a substance can vary from drug to drug and person to person. In other words, two people can use the same amount of a substance and have very different experiences and risk factors for addiction. In short, many factors can lead you to addiction, so seek individualized attention to get and stay clean from drugs.

Find Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Addiction requires treatment, so understand the disease and reach out for help to live free from these powerful substances. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, then know that we are here for you. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline now to speak with an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.


[i] The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction,” November 2012. Accessed October 27, 2015.  http:www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction,

[ii] The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. “Family History and Genetics,” April 2015. Accessed October 27, 2015. https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/family-history-and-genetics

[iii] The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “How Do Adolescents Become Addicted to Drugs, and Which Factors Increase Risk?” Accessed October 27, 2015. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/frequently-asked-questions/how-do-adolescents-become-addicted-to-drugs-which-factors-increase-risk

[iv] Medical News Today. “All About Addiction.” Accessed October 27, 2015. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/addiction/risks-of-addiction.php