Drug Addiction is Not a Mental Disease

Drug addiction is not a mental disease. Despite the fact that the DSM-IV has already classified addiction as a mental disease, it can still be argued that the so-called psychological manifestations of drug addiction are inherently the effects of drugs themselves, giving it an organic nature. This also means that it is highly treatable.

Many reputable medical organizations define addiction as a disease. Like any other disease, it can be caused by a variety of biological, environmental, and even behavioral factors, often working in combination with each other. In more than 50 percent of addiction cases, genetics has been cited as a major risk factor. As such, if one or both parents have the genetic predisposition to do drugs or any other addicting substance, there is also a chance that their offspring will develop an addiction, too. This is the work of specific nucleic acids that code for such a trait. It is not something that can be explained by psychoanalysis.

Unfortunately, addiction also works on the brain leading to a number of physical as well as mental health disorders that will need medical attention. If the addiction and its consequences are left to linger for a long time, it can grow more disabling, severe, and even be life-threatening.

Addicting substances work on the pleasure centers of the brain. Normally we get satisfaction when our basic needs are met. For example, we feel happy and content after eating or drinking because these satisfy our hunger and thirst, respectively. This is changed in an addict’s brain. Instead of the actual meeting of these physiologic needs that provide a sense of pleasure and happiness, it is the addicting substance that supplies the sense of happiness and pleasure. Technically, what addicting substances do is to stimulate certain regions of the brain to release the chemicals needed to produce the pleasurable sensations. In effect, drugs take the place of hunger, thirst, and even sex in making one feel pleasure.

Over time, these chemicals will cause a variety of physiologic changes to the regions of the brain involving memory, reward, and motivation. With these changes, the individual will require the drug or the substance on a more regular basis to feel more ‘normal’. The individual loses interest in many of the normal activities of living and now prefers taking the drug instead of engaging in healthier pleasures.

It is this shift in the new physiologic norm that is often interpreted by some experts as warranting the classification of addiction as a mental disease. Because the addicting substance has clearly changed the way in which the human brain operates, the mind now has an entirely different way of looking and perceiving reality – a characteristic that is very common in mental health issues.

It is clear that while there are clearly mental health issues in addiction these are often the result of the chemical and physiologic changes that occurred in the brain secondary to the addicting nature of illicit substances. This makes addiction clearly a neurophysiologic disease, not a purely mental illness.

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