The Chemistry of Addiction: Why Substance Abuse is a Disease

Addiction to alcohol and drugs can affect anyone, regardless of their race, age, socioeconomic status, education or religious affiliation. Thanks to advances in medical and psychological research, the social stigma attached to substance abuse and addiction are slowly eroding as society becomes more educated and understanding of this disease.

And it is a disease…but did you flinch for a second when you read the word ‘disease’?

You’re not the only one. Although substance addiction and abuse has been officially recognized as a disease for many years, there is still a stubborn resistance in society to acknowledge it as such. But only by understanding it in this way will society remove the stigma of drug addiction and alcohol addiction, which keeps so many from seeking the help they need.

To understand how addiction can be classified as a disease, it’s important to first understand the chemistry of the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that relay, intensify and alter signals between neurons and other cells. When someone takes an addictive drug – whether it be alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, heroin, or Valium, to name a few – the brain gets flooded with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This neurotransmitter is related to feelings of pleasure and excitement and is associated with the reward center of the brain.

In a normal brain, dopamine is released when a person experiences pleasure. However, chronic use of addictive substances means that the brain starts to produce less dopamine on its own, since it is adjusting to getting flooded with dopamine as a result of the addiction. The abuser then becomes unable to experience pleasure without the drug, thus creating a dependency on the drug to have happiness.

Perhaps the most critical part of recovering from substance abuse or drug addiction is the re-balancing of the abuser’s brain chemistry through the detoxification process. 12 Keys Rehab offers a comprehensive drug addiction treatment that starts with detoxification. Our staff of certified medical professionals combine medical expertise and experience with compassion and support as they monitor and assist each patient through the detox process. Their priority is to ensure that each patient is as comfortable as possible as they transition out of the disease of substance addiction and abuse – and into the process of recovery and renewed hope.

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