Knowing That Addiction is a Brain Disease is Essential to Developing Effective Treatment Strategies

The idea that substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction must be fully grasped and handled as a brain disease has received growing support from research conducted over the past few decades. Nevertheless, the idea is still questioned, primarily because of the stereotype that surrounds the behavioral problems that are an inherent part of the condition, even though these studies have increasingly supported the view. This stigma is a significant barrier for people struggling with substance use disorders and the people who care about them when they try to get help, which reduces their chances of receiving effective and long-term treatment. 

Substance Use Disorder

According to this theory of addiction, substance use disorder (SUD) is a brain disease that is both chronic and relapsing. It is comparable to other health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes which have multiple causes, including biological, behavioral, and environmental factors. 

“Over the years, medical studies have shown that the reward, memory, and learning centers of the nervous system are impacted by addiction. This may illustrate why patients slip back after a period of rehabilitation and return to persistently using addictive substances despite the negative outcomes and convincing reasons to quit. It is a fallacy to believe that addiction is nothing more than a behavioral issue that arises as a direct result of a person’s decision to continue to engage in the use of an illegal substance. According to Gareth Carter, an internationally recognized addiction counselor, “this is a brain disease and should be recognized as a chronic disease.” 

“The structure and functioning of the brains of individuals with substance use disorders are different, and this difference can be seen in brain scans. As with any other chronic illness, such as diabetes, hypertension, or asthma, treatment with medication is required. “It is thus essential that the individual, his or her loved ones, and care providers recognize that SUD is a disease and that the outcomes of leaving it unaddressed could be fatal,” explains Carter. 

“If families comprehend that they’re dealing with a disease rather than a character flaw – then it makes perfect sense to them that the sick person needs therapy. If they do not understand this, then it is important to explain this to them. “When patients realize that they suffer from a chronic disease, they can begin organizing their lifestyles around the issue, which makes it much simpler for them to take responsibility for their recovery,” Carter explains. 

According to the writers of an article that was recently released in the Journal of Nursing Regulation, “the illness of substance misuse can be tracked down to neural neurons in the brain that existed before a diagnosis of addiction.” It isn’t sufficient to predict addiction based solely on a genetic predisposition. In most cases, psychological and societal impacts are what push an individual to use addictive substances. The illness is triggered when a genetic disposition is combined with these influencing factors. 

The authors emphasized that recognizing the biological processes underlying addictive behavior can assist others to recognize and address the issue with more empathy, less stigmatization, and more effective outcomes. They added that drug and alcohol addiction is the main health issue that is persistent, gradual, and often fatal for all of society. 

Brain imaging studies demonstrate how substance abuse disorders change regions of the brain that are related to judgment, decision-making, acquiring knowledge, recollection, and behavioral control. These modifications in the brain’s wiring are what cause individuals to have strong cravings for the drug, which makes it difficult to quit using the drug. 

The writers of an editorial that was recently published in The New England Medical Journal, review recent advancements in the neurobiology of addictive behavior to better understand the connection between addiction and brain activity and to expand our understanding of addiction as a brain-based disease. They point out that, just like in the case of other health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, severe pain, and lung disease, scientific proof approaches that focus on prevention, in conjunction with adequate public health policies are the most efficient methods of shifting outcomes. 

“A more thorough knowledge of the brain addiction disease model may assist to mitigate some of the judgment connected to addictive disorders and nurture more public and scientific health-oriented strategies to prevention and treatment,” 

Interventions of Both a Psychosocial and Clinical Nature

According to findings from neurobiological research, addiction is a disease that develops over time and typically begins in adolescence, at a time when the still-developing brain is especially sensitive to the effects of drugs. This is one factor that contributes to adolescents’ greater susceptibility to experimenting with drugs and addiction.

Research findings have also shown that children and teenagers who have evidence of structural or physiological adjustments in frontal cortical regions or who have traits of uniqueness-seeking or impulsive behavior are at a significantly larger chance of developing substance-use disorders.   It is possible to personalize prevention strategies for the patient when there is a consciousness of personal and social risk variables, as well as the ability to recognize the early warning signs of substance abuse problems. According to studies that are related to the brain model of addiction, preventative interventions should be developed to improve one’s ability to better regulate themselves and their relationships with others. 

The investigation that is centered on the brain addiction disease model has demonstrated that treatment can aid in restoring normal capacity in the influenced brain circuitry and result in shifts in habits in cases where prevention has been unsuccessful and treatment is required. During therapies, medication can help prevent relapses while the brain is healing and normal interpersonal and decision-making capabilities are being rebuilt.

This can take place while the brain is still recovering. In addition to this, behavioral interventions should be used to assist in reestablishing harmony in the parts of the brain’s circuitry that have been disrupted by drug use. These may include increased social contact and physical activity, as well as strategies that address reactions to negative emotions and stress as well as methods that assist patients in avoiding circumstances where they might be tempted to use substances.

Article by Gareth Carter from Changes Rehab Johannesburg.

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