Drug Addiction and Alcoholism: Willpower or a Disease of the Brain?

By Jonathan Huttner
A core concept evolving over the past decade is that drug addiction and alcoholism is a disease of the brain that develops over time as a result of drug abuse and alcohol abuse. While many drug rehabs and addiction treatment centers have long accepted the 12 step approach to recovery and believe in the “disease concept”, there still exists conflict regarding the origin of the disease itself.

When a person is suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism, we understand they experience an uncontrollable craving for drugs and alcohol. This craving generally results in the seeking and use of drugs and alcohol which usually interferes with the individual’s functioning within the family and society itself. In most cases, an illness such as this usually requires treatment in a drug rehab, addiction treatment center or alcohol treatment center.

In addition to the above, we also recognize the systems within the brain through which drugs modify perception, mood, memory, and emotional states. Furthermore, the habitual use of drugs and alcohol changes brain structure and brain function to the extent that these changes continue to exist even after the person is well into recovery.

We do not yet understand all of the actual functions, but research demonstrates that those long-lasting brain changes are responsible for the distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning that characterize addicts. In particular the compulsion to use drugs that is the essence of drug addiction. It is almost as if the drugs and alcohol have switched the brain’s normal circuits and rewired it self resulting in drug and alcohol use becoming the main priority for the individual.

It is clear to most of us in the field of drug addiction and alcoholism that when an individual reaches this stage that the most effective course of treatment lies in entering a drug rehab, addiction treatment center or facility for the treatment of alcoholism. To locate such a facility I urge you to contact a person that specializes in addiction or alcoholism treatment or a drug rehab in your local area.

This brain-based view of drug addiction and alcoholism has generated substantial controversy, particularly among people who adopt their point of view and leave no more for further speculation. Many people erroneously still believe that biological and behavioral explanations are alternative or competing ways to understand phenomena. Modern science has taught that it is much too simplistic to set biology in opposition to behavior or to pit willpower against brain chemistry. In fact, drug addiction and alcoholism involve inseparable biological and behavioral components. Many people also still believe that drug addiction is simply a failure of will or of strength of character This could not be further from the truth as research contradicts that position completely.

It is important to state, that the recognition that drug addiction or alcoholism is a brain disease does not mean that the addict is simply a victim. Drug addiction and alcoholism begin with the voluntary act of using drugs or alcohol and addicts and alcoholics must participate in and take responsibility for their recovery. Thus, having this brain disease does not absolve the addict of responsibility for his or her behavior, but it does explain why an addict cannot simply stop using drugs using willpower alone.

Jonathan Huttner is one of the the principals at Lakeview Health Systems, an addiction treatment, alcohol and drug rehab facility. Addiction treatment information and free live help 24/7 is being provided online at RecoveryConnection.org.

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