Addiction has a lot of negative stigmas attached to it. Instead of seeing the internal and external problems associated with addiction, often people shift the blame to the user. There are many reasons why people get into an addiction problem, and not all of them are within the confines of self-will and control. Blaming the user happens when we view addiction solely as a choice. This is especially true when people are not educated about how substance use transforms into abuse. It is important when viewing addiction to treat it like a disease rather than a choice. Below is some information pertaining to how addiction is a disease.

What are the negative stigmas?

Addiction is a choice by the user

Although taking drugs or drinking alcohol is an initial choice, then progression proceeds from a user having control to losing total control. Those who may not be exposed or knowledgable about addiction disorders often think that users can stop anytime they want and they just do not have the willpower to do so.

However, this is far from the truth. As substance abuse takes over, the body shows physical signs of dependency and withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening if not addressed. Users cannot simply stop drinking or taking drugs when a full-blown addiction is already in place.

Addiction is a private matter that shouldn’t be addressed openly

People can freely talk about how they got the flu months ago, how they had a fracture due to a slip, or how they are battling their cancer journey. However, rarely does one open up about addiction problems because of the negative stigma attached to it.

For many, substance abuse becomes a ‘private matter’ that shouldn’t be addressed in a public way because it is an initial choice. However, if you are someone who is suffering from addiction and wanting a way out, yet it is physically and mentally challenging–is this still a choice? Sadly, this negative stigma still runs high in our society today.

People with addictions are ‘bad’

The reason why some people with addiction problems are often suffering in silence is the notion that they are ‘bad’. They are shamed for their ‘choices’, their ability to rise above their condition, and they are also ridiculed for other things such as socioeconomic status, attitudes, or appearance. These discouraging stigmas sadly prevent people from seeking treatment because they feel hopeless.

What is the solution to breaking the stigma?

The ultimate solution to breaking the stigma surrounding addiction is helping people understand that substance abuse is not just a choice, but rather a disease. Having this perspective helps us understand that those who suffer from addictions are not in control of their choice to stop, just like someone who has cancer cannot stop cancer cells from growing. There must be medical and rehabilitative measures to help people with substance use problems.

What are the reasons why addiction is a disease?

Substances affect brain chemistry

Once addiction sets in, the chemicals can affect brain chemistry. The most affected part of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, which handles decision-making, delayed gratification, and self-monitoring. When impaired, the body responds by an uncontrollable impulse to keep on doing what makes it feel good. This results in excessive habits such as drinking, using drugs, smoking, or any other form of addiction.

The scientific basis of changes in brain chemistry was seen in a study with how substances hijack the brain. In a normal brain activity, the receptors for certain substances only have a certain amount. However, in a brain with substance abuse, these receptors increase. This ultimately alters the brain’s chemistry. This chemical imbalance in the brain deems addiction as a mental health disease.

Physical effects occur when substance use is halted

If addiction was a choice, most of the aftereffects of quitting alcohol or drugs should be mostly psychological or emotional. Although emotional symptoms are also present as signs of withdrawal, this does not discount the fact that there are evident physical effects as well.

Some of the known physical effects of abruptly quitting substances include nausea, vomiting, muscle tremors, heart palpitations, and loss of consciousness. When these symptoms turn severe, it can lead to death.

Many addictions require medical intervention

Bad choices and habits can be mitigated through self-improvement strategies and seeking help from friends and family. However, addiction problems often require medical intervention to ensure safety.

It is not advisable for people with substance use problems to quit on their own. As previously mentioned, withdrawal symptoms can be deadly when not addressed well. This is why there are drug detox programs available in rehabilitation centers that can help through proper evaluation, stabilization, and treatment proper to ensure that the user can recover safely and effectively.

Addiction is considered a diagnosis

If you are still in doubt whether addictions are a disease rather than a choice, then look nowhere else but in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). In the updated DSM-V, addiction is classified as a disease.

DSM-V enumerates the 11 criteria of substance use disorders, including taking substances in a large amount than what is recommended, wanting to stop the addiction but is unable to, spending time getting and using substances, having insatiable cravings with substances, disruption of routines due to substance use, among many others. DSM-V also lists other brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Depression, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A doctor can give “Substance Use Disorder” as a diagnosis and the patient can be a candidate for treatment.

Break the stigma, educate yourself and others

You should never feel ashamed to reach out for help. Learning more about addiction will help you see that your struggle isn’t based mainly on choice. Furthermore, never be afraid to engage others. Engaging is what allows other people to see other perspective and perhaps change minds. Use this post as a guide if you need to.