The Disease of Addiction

The Disease of Addiction | Transcend Recovery Community

There are far too many addictions going on in our country. On the whole, America is addicted to something, whether that’s caffeine, television, food, sex, or shopping. And given the addiction epidemic with painkillers and heroin, especially for young adults, the question surrounding what is causing addiction in so many people is surfacing in the minds of many Americans.

Government based agencies and those that are federally funded, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a brain disease:

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.

Along these lines, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a clinical reference used by psychologists and therapists, explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to drug abuse problems. Once the cycle of addiction activates the internal reward system, a rush in the brain, that behavior can become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. Furthermore, research into addiction done on monkeys and rats also indicate that addiction is a brain disease.

For those who are considering entering a sober living program, this is important information. Individuals so easily put the responsibility of care into the hands of doctors and therapists. However, taking control and participating in sober living treatment can more readily happen when understanding what addiction is and how it’s treated. Certainly, the best sober living care is that which involves the full participation – mind, body, and heart – of the recovering addict. In other words, when an individual understands the basic framework of the disease he or she possesses, there can be greater participation in healing that illness.

This is particularly true when exploring the illness of addiction a bit further. Many experts would also agree “addiction is a disease that’s characterized by a loss of control”.  Some might describe this as powerlessness, often an unconscious belief that power is outside of one’s control. This is having what is sometimes called an external locus of control. Psychologist Julian Rotter introduced and coined the term, locus of control, in the 1950’s. To put it more simply, your locus of control is what you deem to have power over the successes and failures in your life.

One’s locus of control has an effect on all areas of life. For instance, if you did poorly on your chemistry exam and you can admit that you did not study all the concepts covered in class or that you were distracted during your studying, you are exhibiting a sense of personal power and taking responsibility for your grade. However, if you feel that your low grade is because the teacher does not like you or because the concepts are too hard or because you had an argument the morning of the exam, you are handing over a sense of power to external sources.

The loss of control over one’s behavior, thoughts, and beliefs is a characterizing trait of addiction. Ultimately, the addict hands over his or her power to the substance or behavior he or she is addicted to. Just as an individual might dismiss his power when he says that he failed the exam because of the teacher’s dislike of him, the addict is often completely ignorant of his or her power.

Certainly, treatment of addiction and a recovering addict’s ability to find long-term must include the transformation of deeply embedded habits, thoughts, and beliefs. As these internal patterns find change, so will the reclamation of one’s power. And with this is the ability to stop the brain’s activation and the yearning for more of the same substance.


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