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Addiction Is A Brain Disease Essay

Biology 202
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Drug Addiction: A Brain Disease?

Nicole Pietras

When people hear the words drug addict, these words have negative connotations and stigmas attached to them. People visualize a person who does not care about anything, including family, work, or commitments, except for obtaining money to buy drugs to get high. However, there are many people who are drug addicts that maintain a normal, functioning life. Before we can examine why these people are addicted to drugs, one must first define the word addict.

George F. Koob defines addiction as a compulsion to take a drug without control over the intake and a chronic relapse disorder (1). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association defined "substance dependence" as a syndrome basically equivalent to addiction, and the diagnostic criteria used to describe the symptoms of substance dependence to a large extent define compulsion and loss of control of drug intake (1). Considering drug addiction as a disorder implies that there are some biological factors as well as social factors.

There are many biological factors that are involved with the addicted brain. "The addicted brain is distinctly different from the nonaddicted brain, as manifested by changes in brain metabolic activity, receptor availability, gene expression, and responsiveness to environmental cues." (2) In the brain, there are many changes that take place when drugs enter a person's blood stream. The pathway in the brain that the drugs take is first to the ventral tegmentum to the nucleus accumbens, and the drugs also go to the limbic system and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is called the mesolimbic reward system. The activation of this reward system seems to be the common element in what hooks drug users on drugs (2).

Drugs seem to cause surges in dopamine neurotransmitters and other pleasure brain messengers. However, the brain quickly adapts and these circuits desensitize, which allows for withdrawal symptoms to occur (3). Drug addiction works on some of the same neurobiological mechanisms that aid in learning and memories (3). "This new view of dopamine as an aid to learning rather than a pleasure mediator may help explain why many addictive drugs, which unleash massive surges of the neurotransmitter in the brain, can drive continued use without producing pleasure-as when cocaine addicts continue to take hits long after the euphoric effects of the drug have worn off or when smokers smoke after cigarettes become distasteful." (4)

Since memory and pleasure zones are intertwined in the brain, many researchers have been using psychological approaches to stop drug use. Many rehabilitation centers have used classical conditioning to rehabilitate drug addicts. They combine exposure to drugs combined with cognitive scripts, like statements how drugs have destroyed a person's life or what can be accomplished without using drugs, according to DeLetis (5). By using classical conditioning, the drugs addicts pair the drugs with negative connotations and properties. "Adverse withdrawal symptoms can function as an instrumental negative reinforcer and can be linked to the opponent process theory of motivation." (6) However, drug addicts may relapse and start using again because of many environmental "cues", which are external forces that are associated with drug use in their lives. When the drugs addicts see these cues, their brain circuitry, especially the orbitofrontal cortex become hyperactive and causes these people to start craving drugs again (2). No matter how successful the rehabilitation treatment is, once those "cues" are around, the drug addicts remember how pleasurable the drugs felt and relapse into drug abuse again.

Through all of the research done about drug addiction and its affects on the brain, one can see how drug addiction is considered a brain disease. Drug addiction is a disabling disease and can ruin a person's life. By taking drugs, a person's brain becomes "rewired" to tolerate high amounts of dopamine neurotransmitters, but once those high amounts of dopamine cease to exist, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms. However, there are ways drug addicts can control their drug intake by using classical conditioning techniques, which allows them to associate drugs with negative attributes.



1) Neurobiology of Addiction: Toward the Development of New Therapies

2) Addiction Is a Brain Disease, and It Matters

3) Beyond the Pleasure Principle

4) Getting the Brain's Attention

5) Provider Uses Exposure Response Therapy for Addiction

6) Neurobiological Mechanisms of Nicotine Craving

Comments made prior to 2007

I am a drug addict, and an alcoholic. I have tried so many things trying to quit, and all of them have rendered useless. I've been to treatment, been on Methadone, tried AA, NA, councilling and nothing is doing it. I have no where else to turn or nothing left to do besides just give in to this damned disease and die, which is something I DO NOT WANT. I was a nurse before and lost my license to practice because of my addiction. I still have my child, but barely. Children Services have become involved and have threatened to take her if I don't quit. I want to quit so bad. So bad it hurts. I didn't choose this lifestyle and don't know what to do next. If you have any suggestions I would so appreciate them. I am a 40 year old single mom of two beautiful girls, I help to look after my aging parents and have used them for money more times than I can count. I am a good person with a good heart. If it wasn't for this damned disease, things would be so much better, but I can't kick it. Right now I'm not using hard drugs but I smoke marijuana daily, and I've hit the bottle again. I so don't want to lose my child, or my life, but I"m heading that way. I can't seem to maintain any length of sobriety longer than a few months, and I'm at a loss. Anything you can send me to help me would be so appreciated. God Bless you for this, and thank you again ... Nancy Brisson, 9 April 2007



I have been clean and sober for the past 6 months and with in that time I completed 2 courses and recieved a full time job. I used for about 12 years and it wasn't a controlled addiction. My message is try being clean and sober you will love it but it is a trying time so you do need support ... Kelly, 6 June 2007

Essay on Is Addiction a Brain Disease

2426 WordsJan 29th, 201310 Pages

Position Paper: Is Addiction a Brain Disease?


Addiction, it is all around us, affecting people from all walks of life, it is not limited to certain social classes or lifestyles. It is found in every ethnic group, regardless of gender or age. It affects our neighbors, our friends, and our family either directly or indirectly. Although substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs are two of the most common addictions we hear about, there is a wide range of substances and even activities such as gambling and shopping. There is some debate whether addiction is a brain disease or a choice.
This controversy has been going on for years and a decision whether or not addiction is a brain disease has yet to be reached.…show more content…

If a person can make the choice to take drugs then they can also make the choice to stop taking drugs, especially during those times in between when they are not taking drugs. For a person to voluntarily continue taking drugs of their own accord then they should be held accountable for their addictive behavior and not use brain disease as an excuse.
Further, circumstances such as economical, health, or personal issues resulting in a person’s choice to take drugs ironically can be the same reasons for them to either change their pattern, stop taking drugs, or get help versus the unavoidable, involuntary effect of a diseased brain. Additionally, those that choose to continue being addicted over a long period of time illustrates that by making that choice they are not helpless compared to a person who has a chronic disease. “Rather than being the inevitable, involuntary product of a diseased brain, these actions represent the essence of voluntariness. The addict’s behavior can be modified by knowledge of the consequences. Involuntary behavior cannot (Satel, Goodwin, 1998, pg. 5).
As a result of that knowledge the addicted person is in control and can take be in charge of their actions to change the cycle and make a deliberate effort to change.

My Position:
My position is optimistic on

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