Why is Drug Addiction Viewed as a Disease?
It is hard to argue that the initial decision a person makes to try drugs is in fact voluntary. But it is not true to say that it is voluntary for every person whether they become an addict.
Child abusers routinely use drugs or alcohol on their victims, and nobody would readily say that unknowingly ingesting a drug is voluntary, nor would they say that sexually abused children who are injected with the likes of cocaine are voluntarily ingesting the drug.
However, for most people, the initial choice is voluntary. After that, it is not so voluntary anymore.
To that end, drug addiction is regarded as a chronic, often-relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to the people around them. Drug use causes physiological changes and alterations to the brain that make impulse control nearly non-existent.
Drugs make fundamental changes to the brain
These changes include the over-development of opioid receptors from the abuse of opioids; the over-development of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate from the abuse of central nervous system stimulants; the over-stimulation of reward circuitry in the brain; and the brain's own attempts, in general, to compensate for these changes, which can lead to impaired thinking. Drugs make fundamental changes to areas of the brain that are crucial to decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control, among others.
Other chronic, relapsing diseases include asthma, diabetes and even heart disease—diseases no one seems ready to cast aside as 'problems with will power.' Like those diseases, addiction can be managed with the proper treatment approach.