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Is Drug Abuse a Choice or a Mental Illness?

Did you know that over 20 million Americans have at least one addiction?

One of the most prevalent addictions in the US is drug use. From opioids to cocaine, the country is dealing with a problem that’s been going on for centuries. But, what causes it?

Most people swing between two options: those suffering from addiction have a mental illness, or their struggle was always a choice. To learn more about which it is, our addiction treatment therapy in California team has put together some information you might find useful.

Addiction Carries a Stigma

The first thing to look at is the stigma of addiction. There are many misconceptions about people suffering from addiction, and these come from the stigma attached to the entire topic. People view addiction as a personal failure or flaw when it absolutely isn’t – the people we treat at our drug and alcohol residential addiction treatment for California residents prove this.

There’s, however, a lot of prejudice in this area. People assume those suffering from addiction are from the lower classes, and they look down upon them. As we all know, though, this isn’t true.

Anyone can suffer from addiction. You only have to look at celebrities to see this is true. People from upper-class worlds of wealth can succumb to the pull of drugs, and it’s the same at every level of society.

Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate. But people can.

The truth is that drug addiction can affect anyone, of any gender, from any social background, and of any ethnicity. 

Is Addiction a Choice?

As a rehab that offers drug detox for California residents, we’re often asked whether addiction is a choice. There are a few behavioral scientists who side with the answer of “yes.” They justify this by saying that anything that creates pleasure is capable of creating an addiction and that people are choosing to carry out activities they enjoy.

This theory could apply to anything – from eating food to getting up early. If it brings you happiness, you do it more, and it becomes a habit. There’s a direct link here between the brain’s pleasure centers, and so the brain quickly tells the body it’s good for survival. 

The argument of behavioral scientists is that addiction is the result of choices made over time. One choice after another to keep using the substance leads to addiction.

Is Addiction a Disease?

For many people, though, it’s clear that addiction runs much deeper than this. At our alcohol addiction treatment and drug rehab for California residents, it’s easy to see this in action.

The arguments pointing to addiction being a disease are based on how it affects the brain. When someone uses a highly addictive substance, their brain very quickly causes them to crave it. This can happen after just one use.

After satisfying each craving, it soon becomes an unconscious habit rather than a choice.

It’s also important to look into what is known as tolerance. When someone abuses a substance, the body changes to account for its presence. Soon, the body will have adjusted itself to the drug, and without it, it experiences withdrawal.

More than that, it also encourages the user to take more. The body no longer reacts to the drug in the same way and desires more to achieve the same “positive-feeling” effects.

Eventually, the user enters the state of dependence. Their body will no longer function properly without the substance.

At this point, the area of the brain that causes the decision to take the drug moves to the back of the brain: the unconscious area. This is where breathing and blinking are controlled. Using the substance is now as second nature as breathing: is that a choice?

Other Factors That Cause Addiction

At our alcohol rehab for California residents, we see a number of underlying factors that cause addiction. These, very clearly, are not a choice. To abuse, a substance is often a way to relieve the pain, trauma, and stress caused by the underlying issues.

If these situations hadn’t happened, would the individual be struggling with addiction? If no, and the situation wasn’t a choice, was addiction a choice?

Some of the underlying causes we see during a drug and alcohol detox, CBT, DBT, individual therapy, and group therapy include:

  • Childhood abuse (verbal, physical, sexual)
  • Adult abuse (verbal, physical, sexual)
  • Growing up with someone else suffering from addiction
  • Being in foster care
  • The loss of a loved one
  • Mental health issues

The environment that people are in can highly affect their chances of becoming addicted to a substance. For example, around half of people diagnosed with an addiction also have mental health issues. If someone already has depression, anxiety, or PTSD, they’re predisposed to be more likely to become addicted.

Is that a choice?

The Final Answer

Really, there is no answer. People can argue for years and years on this topic! However, it is clear to our alcohol addiction treatment staff that underlying issues are a cause, and they’re not a choice.

It’s a philosophical debate, but one that should be treated with empathy and kindness. If you were in the shoes of these people, would you have behaved any differently?

Seek Addiction Treatment Therapy in California

Addiction isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun. If you think someone you know is struggling with addiction, no matter what the cause, it’s vital you encourage them to seek help.

If you’re looking for addiction treatment therapy in California, we can help. From family therapy to CBT, our drug detox for California residents could be just what your loved one needs. To learn more or ask for advice on how to help a loved one, feel free to get in touch with our team today.