Is drug addiction a disease?

Substance addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic progressive brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to stop using alcohol and/or drugs, albeit with negative effects such as relationships, work, health and more of.

Common signs of drug addiction include:

  • Efforts to control substance use (amount, timing and frequency of use)
  • Want to give up but can’t hold on to the end
  • eager
  • quit

There are many misconceptions surrounding drug addiction and those who struggle with it. It is important to remember that addiction is not a moral failure, nor is it due to a lack of willpower or discipline. Addiction is a disease and not the fault of the person experiencing it. Those in need can get help.

Read on to learn more about drug addiction, including how it changes the brain, why, and how to get help for you or a loved one.

Addiction Disease Model

Addiction disease models use biological, neurological, and genetic reasoning to explain the development of addictive behaviors. This approach further supports that addiction is a disease of the brain.

That said, the addiction disease model does have its limitations, as it excludes environmental, psychological, and social factors. Drug addiction is a multifaceted disorder, and multiple perspectives must be considered when discussing and addressing the situation.

How does addiction change the brain?

To understand how addiction changes the brain, it is important to understand how drugs affect the brain.

The drug primarily affects the so-called reward center of the brain. The reward center consists of various structures and pathways that are activated when you experience something pleasant or rewarding. The brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure.

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Over time, drug addiction can physically alter the brain. In fact, brain imaging studies of people with substance use disorders have shown these physical changes in the brain, including structures critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavioral control.

Is addiction chronic?

Addiction is defined as a chronic progressive disorder. This means that it is usually lifelong and incurable, and relapse is possible, although many people can continue to control their addiction with proper treatment and support.

Is addiction a choice?

Trying a substance for the first time is a choice, a conscious decision you make. But being addicted to matter is not an option, it happens over time. Addiction is not the result of moral failure or low willpower. Addiction is a disease, and a serious one. Since 1999, nearly 841,000 people have died from drug overdoses.

What Causes Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is caused by a variety of factors, including someone’s genetic makeup, their environment, and developmental history. Psychological factors, such as having a mental illness, also play a role.


t Increase a person’s odds of becoming addicted by 40%–70%, or 40%–70% of people with a genetic link to have a substance use disorder?

Genetics plays the biggest role in someone’s chances of developing a substance use disorder. If a parent or close relative is addicted, genetic factors account for 40%–70% of the risk.

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In addition to a person’s genetic makeup, the environment they live in can further increase their chances of becoming addicted to drugs. For example, children who grew up around parents or others who struggled with drug addiction were more likely to develop drug addiction than others who did not have this influence.

get help

Whether you or a loved one is battling addiction, there are effective treatment programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Drugs Anonymous. Therapy and self-care strategies can also help.


Different treatments that may help with addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): With this form of talk therapy (psychotherapy), a mental health professional will help identify patterns and track thoughts or feelings that may lead to addiction, as well as provide step-by-step guidance and healthy coping skills.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): As a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT aims to help people manage their emotions, develop coping skills, and improve relationships through individual and group therapy and telephone coaching.
  • Other forms of talk therapy: Psychotherapy uses different types of communication to assess, diagnose, and treat behavioral patterns and emotional problems.

Self-Care Strategies

It is important to take care of your emotional, physical and mental health. Try incorporating the following on a daily basis:

  • exercise regularly
  • meditation
  • healthy eating
  • enough sleep

you’re not alone

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for support and treatment facilities in your area Information.

If you are in crisis or suicidal, you can seek support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or texting “HOME” to 741741 to chat with someone on the Crisis Text Line.

If you have a medical emergency and need immediate care, please call 911.


Drug addiction is a chronic progressive brain disease. It is caused by a variety of factors, including a person’s genetics, development, psychology, and environment. There are many effective treatments available, including therapy and group programs.

VigorTip words

Fighting addiction is not easy. It’s not a choice, it’s not a moral failure, and it’s not the result of a lack of willpower. There is help available. If you think you may be struggling with a drug addiction, talk to a loved one or your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Causes Drug Addiction?

    Drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain. Its causes are multifaceted and are the result of a combination of environmental, developmental, psychological and genetic factors.

  • Are some people more addictive?

    Yes, some people are more prone to addiction. For example, people with certain genetics, family history, or environmental influences.

  • How to tell if a person is a drug addict?

    There are many signs that someone is battling addiction. These include struggling to control substance use, desire to quit but not being able to stick with it, cravings and withdrawal.