Addiction: An illness

Disease Model

Drug addiction is also known as substance dependence, these ‘controlled substances’ implying drugs that have effect on the functioning of the brain. Addiction is a complex illness characterized by compulsive, and commonly, uncontrollable drug craving, with use that persists even in the face of derogatory consequences. Controlled substances are frequently used for pleasure and the thrilling effects they generate on the human mind. For many people, consumption of these substances becomes chronic, uncontrollable and leads to relapses even after long periods of abstinence. It negatively influences the physical, psychological, social, financial and overall well being of the person. This pattern involving more than occasional use, and impacting the life of the individual in totality; qualifies as a medical illness that requires intervention for cure.

Pathway to Addiction

Over time, with repetitive drug consumption, the person’s ability to choose to abstain from the drug becomes compromised. The drug seeking becomes compulsive; owing to the effects of prolonged drug use on brain functioning. This substance itself acts as an illness producing agent that alters the neurochemicals in the brain; leading to what is known as ‘Substance Use Disorders’. Casual substance use differs from disorders like addiction and dependence. With passing time, one needs to consume the substance regularly, feels the need to increase the quantum of use to experience the same effect and may experience unwanted, bothersome sensations (withdrawal reactions) in the absence of that substance. The need for the substance is intense and compelling; one cannot regulate it by any means, however hard one tries.

Addiction Consequences

Addiction and dependence often involve not only compulsive drug consumption but also a myriad of dysfunctional behaviors that interfere with normal functioning in the person’s family, the workplace, and broadly the community. These disorders lead to disruption in all spheres of life and cause significant distress to the near and dear ones who also have to bear the brunt of this illness, along with the drug user. Drug procurement and consumption takes precedence over all else.

Need to treat

Because addiction has such diverse dimensions of suffering and disrupts so many aspects of the individual’s life, treatment is vital. What makes it harder is the failure of the sufferer to realize and accept the need to correct it. Management of addiction and dependence is long-term and involves multiple levels of intervention along with attempts at abstinence. Various diagnostic tests assess the personality patterns in the individual and determine the factors that push one towards substance use. A combination of medication, behavior modification and family interventions is essential to help the drug user rid the vicious habit and focus on healthy and productive living.

Illness dimensions

Drug use is not simply a matter of habit or weak character; it is an illness damaging the health of the person in totality in all dimensions.

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Familial

Warning signs

Occasional drug use on social occasions is not dependence. Like any illness, drug dependence comes with its warning symptoms.

  • Increase in the consumption
  • Extreme craving for the drug
  • Preoccupation with the drug
  • Adverse symptoms on stopping
  • Feel the need to quit but cannot
  • Financial problems due to use
  • Legal troubles due to drug use

Dependence pathway

The pathway to dependence is long and convoluted. Everyone does not get dependent. We toil hard to contract the illness of addiction:

  • Initially trying the substance
  • Liking the pleasurable effects
  • Craving for it in its deficiency
  • Increasing the quantity of use
  • Feeling uncomfortable withdrawal
  • Need to resume consumption
  • Need to consume it regularly
  • Urge to consume it everyday