The addiction disease model is a classification of addiction that views addiction as an illness. This means addiction has biological, psychological, and social components. Addiction is classified as a chronic brain disorder that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the individual’s health, social life, and occupational or academic functioning. 

It affects close to 21 million people in the United States alone. The addiction treatment model of addiction based on understanding addiction as a disease has been largely improved over the last years because of advances in neuroscience research and genetic studies, which have helped experts better understand what addiction looks like on an anatomical level.

What Is the Disease Model of Addiction?

The disease model of addiction is a shared understanding that addiction changes the brain, leading to dependence on addictive substances. The disease model emphasizes treatment and prevention rather than criminalization or moral judgment.

According to the disease model, addiction, like alcohol addiction, is classified as a chronic, relapsing disease with genetic components. The addiction progresses from initial experimentation to addiction in a predictable and often inevitable fashion.

Addiction is classified as such because it leads to physiological changes in the body, which cause withdrawal symptoms when an addictive substance is removed or eliminated from someone’s system.

Studies show that addiction affects brain chemistry by changing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and endorphins, all of which affect moods, feelings of pleasure, and pain perception, among other things.

The main goal of addiction medicine is to treat addiction as an illness to reduce its consequences for personal health, families, and society at large. Treatment options include medication-assisted therapy alongside counseling therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and family interventions.

Sources of Addiction According to the Disease Model

The disease model of addiction treatment states that addiction is a chronic disease caused by genetic, biological, neurological, and environmental factors.

Genetic Factors

A person’s genetic composition is a huge factor in addiction. There are specific genes that exist within the body, which can lead to addiction. The likelihood of developing an addiction is 50% based on your genetic composition. For example, if any of your parents have an addiction problem, you might inherit the addiction gene.

Biological Factors

A person’s physiology and addiction are directly correlated. The addiction hijacks the brain’s reward system, tricking it into thinking that drugs and alcohol will provide relief from stress or anxiety even when they do not. Some people will enjoy the high and addiction, but others will experience negative side effects.

The brain’s reward system is triggered by the release of dopamine in response to a pleasurable activity. It causes the body to feel pleasure or happiness. For example, if someone drinks alcohol, their brain releases endorphins which make them feel good. Dopamine reinforces addiction through its ability to make people want more drugs so that they can get that feeling again.

Neurological Factors

Neurological sources of drug addiction are most often addiction-causing drugs themselves. For example, cocaine addiction is caused by changes in the brain’s dopamine system and receptors for dopamine because of using the drug over time. Similarly, addiction to heroin causes neurological damage due to its effect on synapses that connect neurons in key brain areas where addictive behaviors are generated.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as trauma, peer pressure, and addiction in the family can all contribute to addiction. They prompt someone to experiment with drugs to fill the void. Early use of drugs increases the addiction risk, and the addiction progresses to an addiction.

Addiction as A Brain Disease

The disease model classifies drug addiction as a chronic disease of the brain. Addiction alters the brain’s structure and function. The addiction cycle begins when a person uses drugs to experience the pleasurable effects they provide-euphoria, reduced anxiety, relaxation. 

Repeated use of addictive substances can lead to addiction or dependence on that substance.

At first, addiction seems like a choice that someone makes after becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. But addiction changes how one’s brain functions, leading them to continue using drugs despite negative consequences.

Continued drug abuse induces changes to the brain circuitry and affects the way it functions. This affects the user’s decision-making ability, self-control, motivation, and memory.

As addiction progresses over time, the brain cells get less responsive to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that conveys messages between nerve cells in the brain. This results in addiction because of how addiction affects one’s ability for self-control and causes them to compulsively seek out drugs regardless of consequences or negative effects on their life.

When the user quits drug usage, they get affected by withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms cause a relapse weakening the brain’s region responsible for decision making, functioning, and self-control.

Seeking Treatment Under The Disease Model of Addiction

The disease model recognizes that treatment should be lifelong and that addiction is a medical issue, not one of choice. With addiction being classified as a chronic illness, treating drug addiction can be simple: through medical treatment or therapy focused on minimizing substance use behaviors with medication if needed.

Therefore addiction treatment should aim to help the patient heal their brain’s addiction pathways to lead fulfilling lives free from substance abuse.

This means quitting alcohol or drugs for good – it won’t work if you’re only taking them sporadically or in moderation like most people do with other chronic illnesses like diabetes. You need follow-up care, too, as addiction doesn’t end when withdrawal symptoms go away.

Let Covenant Hills Treatment Help You

Are you or anyone you know struggling with drug addiction? Treatment centers like Covenant Hills Treatment help people recover their lives by providing support systems and offering group therapy sessions where individuals find understanding from others who have been in the same addiction or addiction-related crisis. We are uniquely a Christian addiction treatment center; however, we offer programs for people looking for a Christian approach as well as an option for people who prefer to have a non-religious treatment program. Contact us today for more information about addiction, addiction treatment, and why addiction is a disease.