The vast majority of those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol will be able to pinpoint at least one other person in their family who has also experienced addiction. This is because genetics is believed to be a major cause of addiction.
Even though this is obvious to most people in your family, it’s also likely that some family members will say that your addiction arose because you consciously chose addiction.
The debate whether addiction is a choice or a disease is still ongoing, but there now exists much evidence that addiction is not a choice but rather a disease.
Saying addiction is a choice is really putting moral blame at the foot of individuals who are affected by addiction. We feel this is unhelpful and often hurtful.
Both the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine agree that addiction is a disease.
The ‘disease of addiction’ is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and behavioural factors. Of these three, it’s believed that genetics is the single biggest cause of addiction.
Every person’s brain is designed to seek out rewarding experiences due to a chemical known as dopamine. Our brain remembers actions that result in the release of dopamine so that we will repeat these actions again and again. Drug and alcohol use causes the release of dopamine and it’s because of this why their use may become habitual and addictive.
One reason why those affected by addiction become addicted to substances in the first place is that they were not born with a large number of dopamine receptors in their brain.
This means these people are not able to experience natural levels of pleasure and so are more likely to seek out pleasure in other less natural ways.
Furthermore, when drug and alcohol addiction advance, the brain’s chemical makeup is altered. Specifically, the rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) literally shrinks.
This is one reason why those addicted to drugs and alcohol literally do not have a choice but to continue on with their addiction. These changes make to the brain mean those affected by addiction are not able to make rational and informed choices to stop taking the substance they are addicted to.
It’s obvious to point out that those affected by addiction do not choose to undergo alterations in their brain’s chemical makeup.
It is also worth pointing out that many people suffering from addiction first begin to use drugs and alcohol as a way of tackling mental health conditions.
Negative mental health issues cause these people to self-medicate with alcohol and illicit substances. In time, drugs and alcohol alter these people’s brains to a point where they no longer have a choice when it comes to drug and alcohol use.
The good news is that recovery is a choice. Recovery isn’t easy, but it is possible with the right sort of help. Your recovery will require an absolute commitment to lifelong abstinence.
When you are in recovery, you will be given a platform to stand up and fight for those who are not as fortunate as yourself.
The current system is set up to punish those affected by addiction. Instead, the system should be set up to treat these people. After all, we wouldn’t punish people suffering from any other sort of chronic disorder such as cancer, diabetes or heart failure.