The Science Behind Addiction

Addiction has become a public health emergency.

Historically, Substance Use Disorder (SUD) has been wrongly viewed and mistreated as an acute, behaviorally centered condition. Conversely, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) recognizes addiction as:

A primary & chronic disease​

A disease centered in the brain​

A disease with psychological & social components ​

Addiction Is Not a Lack of Willpower

Those who embrace the view of addiction as behaviorally focused may also mistakenly believe that individuals misusing alcohol and drugs could, at any time, “make a decision” to quit based upon good intentions and force of will. In fact, this is one of the most widespread myths about addiction, now known as SUD to remove the stigma of alcoholism &/or addiction.

Though a person taking drugs may initially make a willful decision to engage in the behavior, we now know substance use leads to brain changes over time. These brain changes interfere with an addicted individual’s ability to deny themselves and resist the overwhelming compulsion to continue with drug use.

Substance Use Disorder & the Brain

Drugs are chemicals that produce euphoria and disrupt normal brain communication by tampering with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals.

Addiction is a Disease by Nora D. Volkow, M.D. Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Dr. Volkow’s work has been instrumental in demonstrating that drug addiction is a brain disorder. As a research psychiatrist, Dr. Volkow pioneered the use of brain imaging to investigate how substance use affects brain functions.

When Does a Person Cross Over from Drug Use into Addiction?

With daily or near-daily substance use, a person’s body becomes physically dependent on the drug(s) of choice. As a substance leaves the body, physical dependence leads to drug cravings and subsequent withdrawal symptoms.

Since SUD is a complex brain disorder, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when drug use becomes a substance abuse disorder. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that addiction is generally characterized by:

  • An inability to stop using the substance
  • Impaired behavior and self-control
  • The regular presence of substance cravings
  • Diminished ability to recognize behavioral or relationship problems

The Value of Professional Addiction Diagnosis & Treatment

Renowned scholar William White, the author of NAATP’s history and founder of AA, believes the U.S. has tried to arrest and incarcerate its way out of the SUD crisis. Over 23.5 million U.S. adults 18 and over are in recovery from a SUD.

Appx only 10% of individuals in this group have received specialized treatment from a qualified addiction treatment facility. This statistic indicates that most U.S. adults with a SUD do not get the help they need. By contrast, 85% of the people in the US with diabetes receive treatment!


SOURCE: National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)