Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

Is Drug Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

Many people wonder, “Is drug addiction a disease or a choice?” 

Until recently, we really didn’t know much about addiction, what caused it or how to treat it. Addiction was largely viewed as a weakness or moral character flaw until more research came along and told us otherwise. Thanks to this new scientific evidence, treatment professionals now accept drug addiction as a brain disease that involves changes in how the brain and body function instead of a choice. 

Nevertheless, some people still believe that addiction comes down to choice. After all, people make the choice to experiment. They choose to use a second and third time. And they choose to put themselves in positions where these substances are available. So, don’t addicts bear some responsibility? 

In this article, we’re going to cover the reasons why most holistic outpatient Phoenix treatment centers believe in the disease model of addiction and in what situations you can hold addicts accountable for their actions. 

The Disease Model of Addiction 

Like diabetes or heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetics account for roughly half of the likelihood that a person will develop an addiction. 

There is no single gene that is responsible for addiction. Instead, it’s a combination of genes that can influence the risk for addiction. Still, just because a person has a genetic risk does not mean they will develop an addiction. All it means is that they are more likely to become dependent than someone else. 

Aside from genetics, psychological, cultural and environmental factors also play a role in a person’s risk profile. For example, people who have suffered ongoing trauma are more likely to develop addiction, as are individuals who have mental illness. If addiction is left untreated, the symptoms will worsen and raise the risk for overdose and death. 

How Substance Abuse Changes the Brain 

As researchers uncover the many ways that drugs and alcohol change the brain, we continue to see that addiction is much more than a character flaw. Instead, it’s a highly compulsive disorder that tricks the brain into rewarding itself with more pleasure

People feel pleasure when their basic needs are met, which is why you feel good when you eat, drink or have sex. These behaviors release feel-good chemicals in the brain that make you feel happy. Drugs and alcohol release these chemicals, too, except in much higher levels. This incredible feeling of euphoria is what the brain craves again and again. 

Over time, these changes affect the reward, motivation and memory centers in the brain. Therefore, users need more drugs and alcohol to feel “normal.” If they don’t give the brain what it wants, they suffer physical and psychological withdrawal effects and intense drug cravings. 

Unfortunately, a month-long stay in drug rehab in Phoenix is not enough to kick a drug or alcohol habit. Changes in the brain stay for a long time, even after the abuse stops. This is why people in early recovery are especially vulnerable, as their brains are still healing. Many of the things in a normal environment can trigger the desire to use. 

man sitting at table

Is Addiction a Chronic Disease? 

The reason why addiction treatment professionals consider addiction to be chronic is because the risk for returning to drugs and alcohol will always be there. Whereas other people turn to healthy outlets like exercise or talk therapy, recovering addicts are more likely to want to drink and use drugs. This makes it easier to fall back into old habits, especially at first. 

Fortunately, addiction is a treatable and manageable condition. While addiction is not curable, people grow stronger in their recoveries and learn effective ways for dealing with stress and anxiety. To manage this condition like you would diabetes or high blood pressure, a balanced schedule that includes aftercare, peer support, family support, monitoring and more is essential. 

Why is Drug Addiction Not a Choice? 

It’s true that people choose to experiment with drugs and alcohol. These initial and early decisions are a person’s free will. However, once the brain is changed by addiction, it is no longer the person’s choice to continue. The addiction is in control and takes precedence over everything else in their life. 

Many people experiment with drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives. But no one does so to become addicted. Unfortunately, when the right combination of factors come into play, it’s easy for the addiction to take over, make changes in the brain and take away a person’s ability to make good choices. 

Luckily, people with addiction can stop using drugs and alcohol, just as people without addiction can stop. But, it is harder and does require a lifetime of smart choices, a strong support network and possible continued holistic outpatient treatment in Phoenix.

Are Addicts Responsible for Any of Their Actions? 

People who have an addiction should not be blamed for their disease. We all make choices when it comes to experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but we do not choose how our brains and bodies respond to these substances. However, this does not mean that addicts are excused from everything. 

For example, people with addiction are responsible for seeking drug rehab in Phoenix and maintaining recovery. Their friends and family can help, but ultimately, it’s up to them to make healthy choices that will keep them on the right track. If relapse occurs, the person must be truthful about what occurred and seek immediate treatment. 


In the end, individuals with substance abuse problems benefit more from outpatient treatment centers than blame, shame or criminal punishment. Treatment allows them to process past trauma, learn relapse prevention techniques and manage strategies for dealing with stressful situations. Ultimately, this is far more effective than punishing people. 

Drug Addiction Outpatient Treatment Phoenix, AZ

Continuum Recovery Center provides a safe, compassionate environment where clients can work on their recoveries. We believe in the disease model of addiction, but we still hold our clients responsible for their actions going forward, such as attending 12-step meetings and following their aftercare plan. To learn more about our approach to treating addiction, contact us today