In 2007, then-Senator Joe Biden introduced a bill called the Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007. It sought to rewrite language used by the federal government when it spoke or wrote about addiction and recovery. For example, the bill wanted to rename the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction. Biden also recommended renaming the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.
After discussing addiction with addiction psychiatrists and medical doctors, Biden reported to Congress that “addiction was a neurobiological disease and not a “lifestyle choice.” He further reiterated his desire to rename these federal offices by stating, “we need to change the way we talk … and think … about addiction, which will help us get past the social stigma associated with this disease.”
Is Addiction a Choice?
Although addiction healthcare professionals agree that addiction is a disease and not simply a lifestyle choice or mental disorder, discriminatory attitudes towards people suffering addictions continue to prevail in our society. Statements like, “They could quit if they wanted to,” or “It’s just their way of avoiding responsibility” are inaccurate, prejudicial and do nothing but further the scientifically debunked theory that addicts are self-centered and do not want to change their behavior.
Is Addiction an Illness?
Addiction is actually similar, physiologically speaking, to chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. In fact, relapsing is comparable to the way many people with diabetes or asthma “relapse” by not taking medications or indulging in unhealthy lifestyle choices that worsen their disease.
When addicts enter recovery but relapse at some point, this does not mean they have “failed” or choose not to stop using. Instead, relapsing means that the original treatment program needs readjustments, or an alternative treatment plan is required that can better help the person in recovery control the disease.
Drug addiction shares several characteristics defining chronic diseases, such as familial heritability, an “onset” of the disease influenced by biopsychosocial factors, its positive response to medical treatment and specific lifestyle changes. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “Scientific research has shown addiction to be a brain disease, that drugs can change brain function and structure and that parts of the brain are significantly affected by addictive substances.”
Is Addiction Genetic?
Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to initial substance abuse and eventual addiction. Support for a strong correlation between genetics and addiction emerges from twin, adoption and family studies, which revealed that a person’s risk for developing an addiction is “proportional to the degree of the genetic relationship to an addicted relative.” Some drug addictions appear more genetic in nature, as well. For example, a cocaine addiction is more heritable than an addiction to LSD, peyote and other hallucinogens, while a marijuana addiction is less heritable than alcoholism.
No one “addiction gene” is responsible for an inherited tendency to abuse drugs or alcohol. In fact, recent neuroimaging studies have found that individuals with fewer dopamine receptors (a genetically determined trait) in the brain may be more likely to abuse drugs. Environmental and socioeconomic factors also play critical roles in expressing addiction genes.
If you or someone you know has a family history of addiction and needs immediate help, contact 12 Keys Rehab today for a confidential consultation and in-depth discussion about our recovery program.