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In the field of addiction and alcoholism there is a long standing debate that should be put to rest for the sake of those struggling with a substance abuse or drinking problem. For those people still clinging to the idea that addiction is simply a matter of weak or misguided will power, the theory that addiction is a disease is laughable. However, evidence has shown that addiction – regardless of the particular substance – is a neurological condition that is both progressive and potentially fatal. These characteristics place addiction and alcoholism on par with serious illnesses like cancer and HIV. And because substance abuse often inflicts severe damage on everyone close to the user, the implications of this clinical disease are generally quite far-reaching.,Any human can become hopelessly addicted to drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t matter how physically or mentally strong you are – if you use certain drugs for an extended period of time you will likely become addicted, and most people require medical intervention in order to survive. This means that people who have surgery for a broken limb can become addicted to pain killers. People taking sleep aids can become addicted. Anti-depressants and sedative required as treatment for an underlying condition can also lead to addiction. Of course, this clearly means that recreational users of drugs are in just as much danger or becoming addicted.,This is because over time the body builds up tolerance to drugs. Once this occurs more and more of the substance will be required in order to get high or achieve the same effects as before. This increase in amount and frequency leads to a physical dependence, where the body cannot operate normally without the drug in its system. Without intervention outright addiction almost invariably occurs next.,When a person uses a substance it triggers the release of dopamine – a feel-good substance that is also released when we eat, have sex or do something enjoyable. This process causes neurological pathways to be constructed in the brain that serve the drug use behavior in the same way it would serve sexual or eating behaviors. These pathways are permanent and cause severe cravings for drugs.,The cravings for drugs are caused by associations made by the brain when drugs are used. The brain takes notice of the environment and situational data surrounding the drug use and attempts to replicate this whenever possible by sending out strong urges to use drugs when in the same or similar environment or situations. This is why a song, a person, a movie, a street, or even a simple object can cause someone to use – even if they have been clean from drugs for years.,The permanency of the neurological pathways in the brain means that there are often symptoms present related to addiction long after a person stops using drugs. This is referred to as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, and it is responsible for most relapses that occur among recovering addicts and alcoholics. In many ways it is comparable to how remissions work in cancer patients: some cancer goes into remission spontaneously, some requires treatment, and some continues to flare up repeatedly.,Because addiction is a clinical, progressive neurological condition it can logically be concluded that it is indeed a disease; one which requires serious treatment. People can’t will their addiction away any more than they can will cancer away.

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