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Is Addiction a Disease or Lack of Willpower?

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It is often very difficult for loved ones and friends of someone struggling with an addiction or alcoholism to understand what’s happening and why they cannot stop using the substance. Frequently, people will say that if they want to quit, they will do it.

In reality, recovering from drug or alcohol addiction involves a lot more than just willpower alone. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is when a person treats their mental and emotional challenges with drugs and alcohol.

Why is Addiction Called a Disease?

Clinically known as substance use disorder, addiction is a disease because drugs and alcohol alter the brain’s functioning. For example, taking drugs and drinking alcohol negatively affects the brain’s communication system and interferes with the communication of nerve cells. In addition, parts of the brain make up the reward system that rewards us when we do something we enjoy—eating a piece of chocolate, shopping, listening to music, having sex, or falling in love.

The chemical dopamine is released when such things activate the reward center. Drugs and alcohol overstimulate the release of dopamine. At the same time, the brain gets impacted and does not regulate dopamine the same. As a result, people with addiction have a brain disease.

In 2020, 40.3 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder, in the past year, including 28.3 million who had alcohol use disorder and 18.4 million who had an illicit drug use disorder. (SAMHSA)

Is Addiction a Disease or Lack of Willpower?

What Role Does Willpower Play in Addiction?

People often associate willpower with strength, consistency, determination, and reliability. The truth is that willpower can also represent someone in fear or from other negative motives. Still, willpower can be positive if it comes from a healthy place. The American Psychological Association define willpower as:

An ability to resist short-term temptations to meet long-term goals with the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse. It also refers to someone’s ability to employ an even-tempered behavior, that is conscious, effortful regulation of the self, by the self. (APA)

What Do Addicted Individuals Say About Willpower?

Interestingly willpower to remain high or drink is phenomenal. Addicts and alcoholics will admit that they found more willpower to get the next fix or drink more than keeping a dream job, watching their child be born, or even attending a funeral of a parent or child. The disease of addiction is about willpower only to remain high. The will to stop is non-existent. An addict or alcoholic cannot just stop or modify their use because of the effects on their brain’s reward system.

Yet, more importantly, all addicts will say they use drugs or drink to feel better or different. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is the only way they know how to handle themselves in the world.

What to Do When Someone Says They’re Not Addicted

Finally, admitting that this person has lost control over their drug or alcohol intake is symbolic of a desire to change. It is significant because it takes a very low bottom for most addicts or alcoholics to give up administering their own medication, which usually only leads to more physical dependence.

They will lie and hide it until they cannot go on because substances give them peace of mind. However, once they ask for help by admitting their addictions, they need to be quickly taken to a professional drug and alcohol treatment program. Time matters as most addicts and alcoholics will change their minds.

What Addiction Treatment Programs Are Most Helpful?

The programs that are always required to help someone overcome alcohol or drug addictions must be evidence-based. It is also imperative that they be admitted to a long-term program that provides a step-down sequence, beginning with medically supervised drug detox.

Every person in treatment needs to receive a custom treatment plan that precisely targets the types of therapy they require to help them build positive recovery-focused mindsets and to feel comfortable with their emotions and mental health. Most drug or alcohol treatment programs are also substance-specific, and the treatment is provided for the following substances:

  • Alcohol
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl
  • Prescription Pain Killers
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Marijuana
  • Club Drugs
  • Other addictive substances

Palm Beach Interventions Offers a Path to Sobriety

Our process for admission is simple. We believe that access to treatment should occur within 24 hours or less. To help your loved one end their addiction to alcohol or drugs, call us now to set up an admission time and professional guidance on what to do for your family member or friend.

Today’s treatment options rely on research and support each person individually until they are ready to re-enter their lives clean and sober. Contact Palm Beach Interventions to connect with the best addiction treatment center for yourself or a loved one.

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