The idea that becoming or staying addicted to drugs is a choice that people make is pervasive in spite of the research that has shown otherwise. While there will always be detractors in the scientific community, most current research indicates that addiction is a disease that afflicts some people and not others. However, in both cases, addiction treatment is necessary to get rid of the addiction.
When people try to argue that drug addiction is a choice, they may cite the fact that no one is forced into trying cocaine, heroin, or meth for the first time. It may be true, but there are many factors that lead to a person turning to drug addiction. Often, a user gets into drugs initially because of emotional problems, stress, pressure, or mental illness. Using drugs is not simply a black and white choice since there are many factors involved.
Many people who try drugs once or twice never do so again, while others become drug addicts struggling for years to become clean again. There are many reasons why someone might try drugs, but there is no conceivable reason anyone would choose to become a drug addict. An addict is totally dependent upon their drug of choice. Their life comes crashing down in the wake of their need for it. Relationships suffer and sometimes disintegrate, health deteriorates, jobs are lost, some end up in jail, and many even become homeless, and no one would like to make such a choice for life.
Addiction is a chronic disease. In spite of a few holdouts who claim that addicts can simply make a choice to stop using and then, just like that, they stop, most researchers have found evidence that addiction is, in fact, a disease that must get addiction treatment. Just on the surface, there are many similarities between addiction and other chronic medical diseases: both are highly heritable, meaning that they run in families; the beginning and course of both are influenced by the environment and behaviors, and both respond to long-term, appropriate treatment program.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares drug addiction to cardiovascular disease. Both are dependent on environmental factors.
- Addiction is affected by abuse, witnessing violence, peer pressure, stress, and availability.
- Cardiovascular disease is affected by stress, abuse, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Both diseases are also treated by lifestyle changes: making healthy choices, knowing family history, getting treatment, and reducing stress. If we consider the cardiovascular disease to be a chronic illness, why not drug addiction?
More in-depth research by neurologists, geneticists, and other scientists indicates evidence that there is a biological difference between the brains of those who become addicted and those who manage to escape it. Brain imaging techniques show marked differences between the brains of people who are addicted and those of people who have always been sober. Geneticists have found genes in the DNA of people who have been addicted that pinpoint a tendency to become dependent upon nicotine, heroin, and other substances.
Regardless of how drug addiction begins and the choices made to reach that point, it is a disease. This does not mean that the addict is completely helpless. As with other chronic diseases, an addict must seek addiction treatment, get support, and make positive lifestyle changes.