Addiction Awareness Scholarship Campaign 2020 – Drug Addiction: Is it a Brain Disease?

Name: Sage Lockwood

Drug Addiction: Is it a Brain Disease?


University – Student ID: 800705714

Addiction: A Brain Disease?

to 10% of people aged 12 or older in the United States, or 20 to 22
million American Citizens are addicted to alcohol or other drugs and
more than 174 people die every day from drug overdoses (Volkow et al.
2016; NIH, 2018). Addiction can be used to describe a severe, chronic
stage of substance-use disorder, in which there is a loss of
self-control and self-regulation (Volkow et al. 2016). Drug addiction
consist of compulsive drug taking even with the presence of
consequences and the desire to quit taking the drug(s). Addiction and
substance-use disorder are defined by the
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

(DSM-5), which outlines the level of severity an individual is
undergoing with their addiction or substance abuse. The DSM-5 refers
to the recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs that may cause
clinically and functionally significant impairment (Volkow et al.
2016). An overall consensus has developed over the last three decades
that describes addiction as a chronic but treatable medical condition
that involves change to brain circuits related to reward, stress, and
self-control (NIH, 2018). According to the DSM-5, in order for
recurring drug use by an individual to be consider addiction, the
drug use must interfere with important life functions including but
not limited to parenting, work, and intimate relationships. Use of
the desired drug will also take up large deal of time and mental
energy, develop tolerance, and develop withdraw symptoms if the
individual has become addicted (Griffell et al. n.d.). Based on the
findings listed in the article published by the
England Journal of Medicine
there are three main stages of addiction: binge and intoxication,
withdraw and negative affect, and preoccupation and anticipation.
Each of those three stages are associated with the activation of
specific neurobiological circuits and the clinical and behavioral
characteristics that come consequentially. Drug addiction has been
found to cause neurological or brain changes that occur from
recurring drug use and the three stages of addiction. Addiction
involves the overactivation of the striatum, which is a part of the
brain that directs goal orientation in response to cues predicting
their preferred rewards (Lewis, 2016). Overall, the aspect of whether
drug addiction is a brain disease or not is constantly questioned and

who believe that addiction is a brain disease, tend to rely mostly on
the neurological and brain alterations that are believed to be caused
as a result. These changes in the brain of addicted individuals could
explain the drug taking compulsiveness. With brain imaging
techniques, such as PET scans, researcher were able to discover that
individuals addicted to various types of drugs displayed a lower
amount of available dopamine receptors (Griffell et al. n.d.). This
could indicate changes in brain function and structure, reversible
brain dysfunction, irreversible brain dysfunction, irreversible brain
damage, and/or differences in ligand binding. Brain changes caused by
obesity are also nearly identical to the brain changes observed in
long-term substance abusers (Lewis, 2016). The changes caused in the
brain help to provide a link between addiction and disease of the
brain. Another link between the two is that medicinal intervention
may be used to treat or aid in the alleviation of drug related
consequences and help restore healthy circuitry brain function. When
medicinal intervention is shown to be affected, researchers use that
to prove their idea of addiction being a disease. Medication may also
be used to prevent relapse while the brain is healing (Volkow et al.
2016). The discover of new medications for addiction can be benefited
by claiming that addiction is a disease because this allows extensive
medical research and experiments. Along with medicinal advancements,
claiming that addiction is a disease has also been shown to assist
drug abuser in getting access to much need help, such as
rehabilitation or therapy. There are early indications that primary
care and specialty behavioral care integration can substantially
improve the management of substance-use disorders and many
addiction-related medical conditions (Volkow et al. 2016). When
addiction is considered a disease, it also opens up the assistance of
funding by insurance coverage due to the Mental Health Parity and
Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Those who consider drug addiction a
brain disease, often use the aspects of brain structure and function
alteration, medicinal intervention, health care treatment plans as
the basis for their arguments.

opposing side of the argument believes that drug addiction is not a
disease but is a self-inflicted destruction and a hedonistic act.
Many claim that viewing drug addiction as a brain disease, minimizes
the important social and environmental factors that influence the
drug use initially (NIH, 2018). By stating that addiction is a brain
disease or a disorder of brain circuits dismisses the important role
that stressors such as loneliness, poverty, violence, and other
psychological and environmental factors play in drug use. The
existing paradigm that addiction is a brain disease can be argued
that it is based on intuition and political necessity instead of data
and useful clinical results (Griffell et al. n.d.). There is
virtually no concrete data in humans that indicates addiction as a
brain disease when compared to other proven brain diseases such as
Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease. There is data and research
however that explains addiction as a behavioral issue. For example,
in the article written by Griffell and Hart a study was mentioned
where drug users were offered contingency management plus behavioral
counseling or a traditional 12- step counseling treatment. Patients
in the contingency-management aspect of the study received
merchandise vouchers if they had drug-free urine while the other
group of drug users received nothing even if they had drug-free
urine. 58% of the contingency-management group successfully completed
their treatment, when only 11% of the traditional counseling
treatment group successfully completed (Griffell et al. n.d.). This
information showed the researchers that the majority of the
participants were successful due to their internal want for the
voucher incentive and led to the conclusion that drug use and
addiction is an individual behavior choice. In addition to the
behavior properties of addiction, medicinal treatments have also been
proven to be minimally affective unless being treated in adjunction
with behavioral therapy.

reading and dissecting the four articles given about addiction and
brain disease, the stance that drug addiction is in fact not a
disease presents the best and most convincing side and case. The case
that drug addiction is not a disease mostly discredits and proves the
wrongly accused case as if it was a disease. This side of the
argument gives factual information on how drug addiction is
self-inflicted and a behavioral issue not a medical issue. For
example, critics of addiction as a disease argue that too much
emphasis is placed on reward and self-control circuits in the brain
rather than the learned activity of drug use. They also provide
comparative arguments such as addiction has experiences and
consequences largely relative to other psychological choices like
falling in love. Falling in love is not a disease. I do not want to
discredit the issue of drug addiction, but I also do not believe that
it must be labeled as a disease in order for individuals to receive
treatment. Inventive, humanistic, educative, and community-based
resources are and should be implemented to assist drug addicts with
out the medical term of brain disease being stated as the issue.
Personally, I agree with the group of individuals that state that
drug addiction is not a disease of the brain, but rather a capacity
of choice. Drug users had to personally make the decision to insert
the harmful chemicals into their body with the common knowledge of
the hurt and damage it will cause to them. I do still believe that
drug addicts should still receive adequate treatment and help,
however I must emphasize that these users intentionally hurt them
selves when they decided to place the drug into their body.