Is Drug Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Both addicts and their loved ones often perceive addiction in the wrong light. Many people think that abusing drugs is purely a matter of choice. In reality, however, once a person becomes chemically addicted to any substance, the power of choice has been taken away. With most substances, it’s virtually impossible to stop using without experiencing severe and even potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. When people are addicted, they no longer have the ability to control their actions. They cannot successful stop using on their own, and even limiting their drug use can be next to impossible. If you’re addicted to drugs and have been blaming yourself for being weak-willed or unmotivated, you should know that drug addiction is actually classified as a mental disorder.

Drug use alters the brain in a vast number of ways. Once significant changes in brain chemistry and brain functioning have occurred, seeking professional help is the only sure way to recover from drug addiction successfully. The good news is that as a mental health disorder, drug addiction is also a covered condition for many health insurances. When enrolling in addiction treatment, having or seeking coverage can greatly limit your out-of-pocket spending. Best of all, once addicts recognize and accept addiction for the chronic, long-term disease that it is, they can start establishing effective and long-term plans for successfully managing it.

Why is Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Most people use drugs because they like the relaxed, euphoric feeling of being high. However, few people consider the chemical changes that are occurring within their bodies that produce these feelings. You might use drugs because they make you feel more confident or assertive, or because they make painful emotions such as guilt, grief, or stress ebb away. Every time that you use, you’re triggering the release of “feel-good” chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are produced and distributed by your brain’s reward pathway. They are meant to be released whenever you do something beneficial and good. For instance, your brain might release certain neurotransmitters when you spend time with your loved ones, or after a particularly strenuous workout. Neurotransmitters are used by the body to keep people motivated. After all, if an activity makes you feel good; you’re far more likely to repeat it.

Unfortunately, with drugs, you’re conditioning your brain to perceive drug use as being a reward-worthy behavior. Over time, your neurotransmitters will largely be devoted to encouraging and rewarding drug use. The same neurotransmitters that make you feel euphoric or high can also become worn out, or they may even misfire. As a person’s neurotransmitters malfunction or as natural neurotransmitter production declines, more drugs are often needed just to feel normal. Without drugs, a person’s whose brain has already undergone these changes will feel unmotivated, depressed, and downright uncomfortable. It’s also important to note that neurotransmitters don’t just control how you feel or how motivated you are. Many of these same chemicals also play roles in basic functions throughout your entire body. If you suddenly stop stimulating these neurotransmitters with continued drug use, your body will send out loud and widespread distress signals. These are known as withdrawal symptoms.

Some drugs affect both the brain’s chemistry and its functions, and some can even alter the brain’s actual size. The good news is that many of the damages caused by long-term drug use can be minimized and even reversed with time. As soon as you start detoxing, your brain and body can start healing and balancing themselves. Rehab professionals can also provide therapies and even medications to address brain changes that require long-term healing or that may not heal at all.

When considering addiction as a mental health disorder, it’s additionally important to note that some addictions are actually caused by untreated, underlying mental health conditions that may have existed before. For instance, people who suffer from chronic anxiety or depression, or who live with illnesses such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

often use drugs as a form of self-treatment. Until these co-occurring conditions are properly diagnosed and managed, these individuals will have a hard time quitting their drug use, and staying clean.

Recognizing addiction as a chronic, lifelong disease can be incredibly beneficial. It gives people permission to forgive themselves for the mistakes that they’ve made throughout their addictions and highlights the importance of having structured, long-term plans for addiction management. If you’re tired of being addicted to drugs and want to find a way out, we can provide it. Call us today at 833-364-0736 to learn more about the available options in drug addiction treatment.