Addiction: a disease of the mind and body
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by the need to seek addictive substances, even at the cost of health and happiness. Addiction to substances like drugs and alcohol is now described as the disease of the mind and body. Similar to other chronic diseases, addiction to drugs and alcohol often involves the twin cycles of relapse and remission. And without proper diagnosis and treatment, the problem can become progressive, result in disability and can even be fatal.
How addiction works
When a person consumes drugs or alcohol by choice, the nature of these substances changes the working and functioning of the brain. Though the initial decision to take the substance might be voluntary, a person soon starts taking drugs and alcohol involuntarily or out of compulsions. This happens because most of the drugs target an integral part of the brain called the “reward center” and flood it with a chemical called dopamine. As the “reward center” controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and often motivates the user to repeat such behaviors, the overstimulation of the reward center causes the user to experience an intense “high,” leading them to experience frequent urges to consume the substance repeatedly, making the user prone to addiction.
With continued consumption of drugs and alcohol, the brain stops releasing dopamine on its own and instead relies on the addictive substance to do so. Over time, the user stops experiencing the “high” he/she experienced initially. Thus, he/she needs to take more of the substance for achieving the normal level of dopamine. This situation is known as tolerance. The compulsive nature of addiction sets in when the brain learns that taking drugs is the only way to increase the dopamine levels. The disease of addiction soon takes over a person’s life in a way that everything he/she does revolves around the act of procuring drugs, even at the expense of personal and professional lives. Long-term usage of drugs can also affect brain functions, including one’s behavior, decision-making, memory, learning and judgment.