What is Addiction?

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, addiction is classified as a disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite the serious health risks and social consequences. Addiction affects areas in the brain that control motivation, learning, judgment, memory and reward. In addition to destroying physical health, it impacts families, relationships, careers, and communities. There are several factors that contribute to what makes addiction a disease. The American Medical Association, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, as well as other respected and notable medical organizations define addiction as a disease. However, there continues to be an addiction disease or choice debate in the medical field and among those that have been impacted by addiction.

Is addiction a disease or disorder?

There is not just one factor that determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs, but instead several that influence potential risk. These factors vary for each individual, however, the more risk factors a person has, the greater their chance of becoming addicted when they take drugs. Here are three factors that influence risk and contribute to what makes addiction a disease and not a disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:


This refers to a person’s genetic makeup. It includes an individual’s DNA, gender, ethnicity, and whether any mental disorders are present.


The environment in which a person spends most of their time greatly influences their risk of addiction. A person’s environment is made up of their family and friends, economic status, and quality of life. Factors that affect someone’s environment would include peer pressure, abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and the level of parenting they received in their formative years.


While genetic predisposition and environmental factors affect a person’s risk for addiction, another contributing factor includes critical developmental stages in a person’s life. The earlier someone starts abusing drugs in their lifetime greatly influences whether the abuse will develop into an addiction. This is especially dangerous for teens. Young adults that are in their teen years have brains that are still in development. The areas of the brain that are responsible for decision-making, judgment, and self control are still developing, making them vulnerable to impulsive behaviors like taking drugs.

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