Please stop undermining the effects of addiction by saying it is not an illness.

I’ve recently seen many articles online explaining why addiction is not a disease. Now, these posts seem to always be more opinion than they are fact. This, to me, is extremely frightening. Addiction is a real problem for many people. Not only is it a real problem, it is a real illness that affects their everyday lives whether they are clean or not.

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I implore you to do something very simple if you don't believe me, keep on reading.

Before I sat to write this article I did my research. I didn't want to go into this emotional and with an opinion that was not backed up by facts. I talked to my aunt who is a nurse and works at a methadone clinic, who immediately responded with a simple yes when I asked if addiction was a mental illness. We had talked about it throughout the night.

The next day I received a text from her containing a link to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The article she had sent was titled "Is drug addiction a mental illness?". The first word in the article was simple "yes".

The article stated:

Yes, because addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person's normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.

Most, if not all people, have been affected by addiction in some way, whether it is ourselves, a friend, or a family member. Many of these stories start with "I can't believe so  and so is addicted to...". Addiction can happen to anyone, any gender, race, or financial situation. Addiction takes the person you care about and changes them into something unrecognizable.

It consumes them.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, "[addiction] is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence."

The addiction to alcohol and painkillers, to me, exemplify the idea that addiction is a mental illness.

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Many people throughout their lives have drank alcohol, just like many people have taken prescription pain medication. However, not everyone gets addicted.

On a personal note, I remember being prescribed Vicodin after having my wisdom teeth removed. I took them the day of my surgery and the day after. The days following I did not take the medicine I was prescribed. Why did I stop taking medicine the doctor had given me? I didn't like how it made me feel. I hated feeling out of it. However, many people can't make that same decision.

When a doctor tells you something or gives you something you trust them that whatever it is they are correct and you should follow their instructions. After a surgery or an incident that leads to the prescribing of a pain medication you are given a bottle of something made to make you feel better. We have become a society that relies on medication based pain management.

I have noticed in most cases you are given more pills than you need. However, these pills make whatever pain you are in go away. They make you feel good. That is what they are designed to do, make you feel better. Who doesn't want to feel better? Now, a doctor has given you something that makes you feel better and has given you a pretty decent amount of that thing. Although, you probably don't need to take the whole bottle, you do because it makes the pain go away.

It is almost scary easy how quickly people can become addicted to opioids.

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Genetics do come into play with addiction. You can inherit addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "...as much as half of a person’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs depends on his or her genetic makeup."

There is not one addiction gene that scientists can pinpoint. Addiction is complicated, as is its effect on a person and their genetic makeup.

Unfortunately, like stated previously, you can inherit addiction. The closer related a person is to someone who struggles with addiction the more likely they are to become addicted to something as well.

Learn.Genetics of the University of Utah stated, "...addiction has an inherited component, it often runs in families. That is, it can be passed down from parent to child by way of genes."

This graphic was created by Learn.Genetics to explain how addiction is passed down. The red are the family members who are affected by addiction the white are the ones who are not.

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Addiction is a serious issue and can happen to anyone. Not one person is immune to addiction. Addiction is not something you can just get over like the common cold. There is no one who is cured of addiction, it is something they live with their entire lives.

So please, instead of casting those who face addiction every single day as week and downplay to severity of the issue, realize this is not a choice.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction there is help. Hope is never lost. Find help at one of these places:


 

Source: DrugAbuse.gov "Is addiction a mental illness?" - Psychiatry.orgDrugAbuse.gov "Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction" - Learn.Genetics.Utah.edu