Substance abuse is a complex disease that is aÂ medical issue, not a mental illness. This is because addiction involves dysregulation of neurotransmitters and the negative effects they have on brain functioning when normal levels are disrupted by alcohol and/or drugs.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for regulating brain circuitry associated with motivation, reward, pleasure, memory and learning–all primary components of an addiction.
Medically Treating the Disease of Addiction is Vital to a Successful Recovery
Effectively treating substance abuse must begin with a medically supervised detoxification program that incorporates medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and help the brain and body adjust to being substance-free.
In addition, patients undergoing detoxification may have other health problems resulting from long-term substance abuse that need addressed, such as malnutrition, anemia or chronic infections.
While addictive drugs have a powerful effect on the brain’s reward pathway, they also impact areas outside this pathway, especially regions controlling decision-making, judgment and logical thinking.
In fact, drugs and alcohol can cause physical changes in the brain by reducing brain cell activity in one area and promoting unwanted connections in another. After these changes in the brain occur, drug cravings become almost instinctual because it is a physiological (medical) problem and not a mental problem.
Advantages to Treating Substance Abuse with Medication
Medications used to relieve strong cravings for addictive substances work because they target the same brain receptors that addictive substances target. However, instead of stimulating these receptors, medications suppress receptor activity which also reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to helping patients liberate themselves from abnormal brain chemistry, medications also provide future benefits when substance abusers are physically well enough to begin addiction counseling.
Additional advantages to addressing an addiction as a medical issue include:
- Significantly reduces the risk of relapse in both alcoholics and drug addicts.
- Offers a solid framework on which substance abusers can start rebuilding their life without interference from dysregulated brain chemistry.
- Can give the recovering addict the courage and confidence to know they have fully detoxed and are now completely capable of taking control of their brain, bodyÂ andÂ life.
- When brain chemistry and health problems are addressed through medication, the period following detoxification is easier for the patient to cope with and will not impede the successfulness of other recovery programs.
Why Addiction Should Not Be Treated As a Mental Disorder
Just like many neurobiological diseases (periphal neuropathy, epilepsy and migraines, for example) that are treated medically, addiction is a also a neurobiological disease that will not respond initially to mental health counseling.
Before steps can be taken to address any underlying mental health problems affecting a substance abuser, the addiction must be treated with medications and other supportive applications so that chemical processes regulating brain and body functioning are adjusted accordingly.
What We Believe
Addiction, like all other diseases, begins at the molecular level and requires specific medications that target and modify these changes so that physiological processes can return to normal functioning.
We believe that treating substance abuse as a medical issue not only strengthens a patient’s ability to experience a successful recovery but also provides them with the healthy mind and body necessary to cope with the rehabilitation process.