Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice

Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice

To some, drug addiction is believed to be a choice while others choose to accept it as a form of the disease. However, drug addiction is not a choice; addiction is a disease. No one chooses to become addicted to a substance such as drugs and alcohol, there are underlying factors that contribute to one’s behavior. 

Drug addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder that is identified by the strong compulsion to acquire and use harmful substances. The most common drugs that people use include opioids (prescription painkillers), marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol.  

Those that are addicted to drugs are likely to continue use despite damaging consequences; their compulsive physiological need for substances like heroin or nicotine is habit-forming. Once a habit is established, drug addiction is characterized by tolerant people who consume drugs but never struggle with substance abuse. Unfortunately, for some, it only takes one dose to become hooked and physically dependent.

Different Schools of Thought: Disease vs Choice

Drug Addiction is not a choice; addiction is a disease. Medical professionals indicate the significance of being genetically predisposed to drug addiction; when addiction runs in your family, your brain chemistry will change upon introduction to a drug or alcoholic substance. Being genetically predisposed means that it may not be the addict’s choice to become addicted, but is a disease brought on by environmental factors.

Environmental factors play a huge role in the development of addiction. Parents with drug or alcohol addictions create a likelier chance of their children developing an addiction. This is due to children who observe their parents and the coping skills they perceive as normal. Once the brain of an individual has been chemically changed or altered by addiction, experts believe that individual loses the power of choice.

The value of choice allows one to employ learned coping skills, usually from parental figures. Poor coping skills are developed when an individual does not know how to deal with stress or uncomfortable emotions.

The development of poor coping skills can be due to the environmental factors faced as a kid. It can also be due to the behavioral and biological factors implemented by adults. Those whose parents are addicts are two times as likely to become physically dependent on a substance.

Some individuals believe drug addiction is a choice as one chooses to use a mind-altering substance. While the initial use may be by choice, remember that the brain’s chemistry is rewired by addiction; continued use of a mood-altering substance changes the way the brain functions. Ultimately, this means that addiction is a disease as it rewires brain chemistry. 

Drug Addiction and Dependency

Drug addiction is a disease, and there are several predispositions that cause someone to engage in substance abuse.

Several risk factors in the development of addiction and drug dependency include: 

  • Genetics makes up for 50% of the likelihood one will develop an addiction.
  • Age plays no role as 91% of individuals before 18 have tried alcohol and 5% have tried illicit substances.
  • Family History has reportedly made up 50% of alcohol use disorder in individuals and 70% of illicit drug use.
  • Mental illness is responsible for many dual diagnoses and makes up for more than half of those individuals that suffer from substance abuse. 

So, why is drug addiction considered a disease? There are many people who consume alcohol and drugs but never struggle with substance abuse. Unfortunately, for some it only takes one dose to become hooked and physically dependent.

The Impact of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can be very impactful and cause a strain on:

  • Personal relationships
  • Social life
  • Finances
  • Personal (physical, psychological, mental) health

Due to personal differences, those who are not addicted may find it hard to associate with a substance abuser. Those who use drugs may not be outwardly open about their use. They may think that Disease or a Choicefamily and friends will not accept or understand the situation; for instance, some individuals insist addiction is a choice rather than a disease. Furthermore, substance users may feel shameful or fearful of judgment by others. 

Apart from losing family or friends, those that use drugs will most likely forgo the bills that need to be paid. For those at the poverty level, a pack of cigarettes per day can consume 10% of your family’s monthly income. 

Heavy substance abusers spend more than that; about half or more of their income will be spent on drugs. Since so much income is spent on drugs or alcohol, outside parties may feel you are choosing drugs over the family. However, addiction is a disease that needs to be treated. 

The personal health of an addict is at risk as well. Family members or friends may feel worrisome as substance abusers disregard the health risks associated with drugs and alcohol. The most serious health risk friends and family worry about is the possibility of an overdose; more than 67,000 people died in 2018 due to an overdose in the United States.

Treatment Models for Addiction

Many still don’t know whether to believe drug addiction is a disease or a choice. Recent research indicates changes to treatment and policies as health professionals label addiction a disease. 

For those that suffer from addiction, there are numerous therapies available to treat it.


The main purpose of the detox process, also known as medically-assisted treatment (MAT) is to rid the body of any toxic substances like cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. In detox, the patient will attempt to tackle the physical side of addiction first. After they have completed the first step, the next is to accomplish the emotional and psychological connection to drugs and alcohol.

Doing a detox before taking part in other versions of therapy can be beneficial as the process intends to minimize the effects of withdrawal. A detox that is medically assisted— such as in a residential treatment center— is the most influential. 

Inpatient Treatment Therapy

Inpatient rehab or residential treatment is when an individual is required to stay at a mental health facility; the stay at one of these facilities is usually 28 days or longer. 

Since patients stay in a closed environment, they are unable to interact with the outside world; the patient can get away from activities that were discouraging to them on the outside. Treatment centers provide a safe place for the patient to undergo a more intense rehabilitation process than outpatient centers offer. Once completed, the patient should consider a relapse prevention plan

Outpatient Treatment Therapy

Outpatient therapy doesn’t require an individual to check themselves into a mental health facility, however, it does involve the guidance of a professional. Mental health professionals guide patients in the hopes that they learn to cope with stressors and manage their mental health.

Many outpatient centers include different forms of therapy, such as counseling, psychiatry, or group sessions. Relapse prevention plans are extremely helpful to those who have completed outpatient therapy. 

Group Therapy

This form of therapy involves one or more therapists that work with several people at a time, usually in a group atmosphere. The idea of a group meeting is to provide support from more than one individual who will understand; those who are in a group session will most likely have gone through a similar situation and can offer advice to others. Past substance abusers understand that addiction is a disease and not a choice. Group therapy sessions also highly promote social skills among addicts. 

Family Therapy

Family therapy strives to help the interaction between family members and substance abusers. The idea of this psychotherapy is to reduce the conflict between members and improve communication. Most family therapy sessions seek to include all immediate family or close family friends. 

By including family in therapy, they can learn to identify specific behaviors, resolve conflicts, and find new ways to communicate and relate to substance abusers. The overall goal of family therapy is to create a better functioning home environment.

Individual Therapy

In this psychotherapy, an individual works with a trained professional to address the personal issues they have been facing. This therapy allows the individual to discuss emotional difficulties and mental illnesses in a secure place. While this treatment model is the most popular, other therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy are incorporated.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a form of therapy that addresses the way one thinks and reacts. This treatment model is used for people with a wide range of mental health disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the theory that it’s not an event that upsets an individual, but the way they have interpreted it. The idea of how we think, how we feel, and how we act is all interconnected.

If an individual thinks negatively about an event then they will give rise to distorted thoughts and beliefs. This therapy works to address how one perceives, thinks, and reacts to emotional and behavioral situations.

Holistic Therapy

In holistic therapy, the goal is to help the substance abuser gain a better understanding of their spiritual, physical, mental, social, and emotional state. Holistic treatment’s philosophy is to get to the root of someone’s addiction and mental illness. In other words, holistic care is the focus of getting the entire body healthy and the mind healthy as well. To be considered “healthy,” it is imperative for none of the above-mentioned areas to be neglected.

Since drug addiction causes dysfunction, discomfort, or distress, it can be medically classified as a disease. Those with mild usage may not have to undergo intensive therapy sessions and can recover with little to no treatment. Those who use in succession will most likely need intensive treatment options as they will face obstacles like withdrawal.


As health professionals consider drug addiction similar to a mental illness, insurance companies are more inclined to cover costs for treatment and counseling. These companies are more willing to assist those with chronic illnesses because they are not seen as individuals with a coping problem. Health professionals have medically classified drug addiction as a disease and not a choice.

In the end, addiction should be insured, treated, and evaluated in the same way other chronic illnesses are. They should be addressed just as diabetes, asthma, and cancer are.

Get Help Today

Sometimes it can be hard for people who are not going through an addiction to decipher whether addiction is a choice, a disease, or both. To reiterate, while the behavior of doing drugs and/or drinking alcohol is a choice people make, there are underlying factors that influence someone to follow through with those actions. Something important to remember: it is no one’s choice to become addicted. 

The disease of addiction is hard to overcome alone. If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse, contact us at Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare to create a treatment plan designed for you.

Furthermore, if outside parties have made it hard for you to decide whether drug addiction is a choice or a disease, visit our website today for guidance.