ON DRUG "ADDICTION"
Drug "addiction" is not a disease. A disease manifests itself as a breakdown of one or more of our organs due to any number of internal or external factors. Drug addiction may seem to manifest itself as a disease because continued use of certain drugs is damaging to our organs: for example, the harm done directly to the lungs by cigarette smoke or to the liver by alcohol.
The term "addiction" simply implies a biological change of brain connectivity. This new connectivity causes the drug addict's brain to behave differently than someone whose brain has not been modified by addiction. Furthermore, addiction does not imply a simple cause-and-effect relationship between the drug and the resultant behavior: if it did, intervention by other drugs or behavior modification therapy would be much more predictable and successful.
In fact, the addict's brain as an organ is working just fine, doing what it has been reprogrammed to do: create a demand for the drug of choice, and release large amounts chemicals that induce pleasure to the user when the drug is used - dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, in particular.
This is not to deny that some drugs act directly on our organs, such as the heart, as in the case of amphetamines. Their impact on the brain is less of a rewiring than to create a sudden increase in neurochemicals that stimulate existing brain functionality.
The rewiring process in the brain continues with continued use of the drug or drugs that cause the rewiring. The rewired brain remains rewired even after the drug user ceases to use drugs. This explains "relapses." All the therapeutic treatment in the world is not going to cause the brain to return to its original, unmodified state, in a matter of weeks, months or even years.
As a result, the rewired brain continues to create a craving for the substance that created the intense pleasure so familiar to the user long after drug use ceases. Resisting is a matter of willpower generated in other higher-level brain functionality. However, the lower-level brain functions usually win this battle of wills, as they have a much more powerful impact on behavior.
You experience this sort of battle yourself whenever you find yourself in a situation where your brain is demanding that you urinate, and you are in a situation that doesn't allow it, at least in an unembarassing fashion. If you can't extricate yourself from this situation, you are going to pee your pants, regardless. And drug users will eventually find themselves in a situation from which they cannot extricate themselves.
One solution for the addict is to find activities that are pleasurable, but do not have harmful side effects, either on themself or others. Falling in love with someone is a good start; mountaineering is another; caring for other people will work too. Anything that produces a lot of good feelings to replace those that were being generated by the drugs. Our body doesn't care how they are generated, but we do.
Garrett A. Hughes
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