Drug and Alcohol - Sobriety

Is Drug and Alcohol Addiction a Disease?

Drug & alcohol addiction is a disease. It’s also manageable with the right care at The Forge Recovery Center. Learn how in our blog!

Is Drug and Alcohol Addiction a Disease?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

January 5, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center


Drug and alcohol addiction is a complex disease of the brain. Addiction is marked by the compulsive and irresistible urge to use or consume one or more substances despite their negative consequences. Addiction to any substance is considered a disease that affects several brain regions and impairs one's ability to carry out daily chores.

Both drug addiction and alcoholism are considered serious medical conditions that can be cured with medical and psychological treatments. The earlier one receives prompt treatment, the more likely one will not face the disease's negative consequences.

What is Drug and Alcohol Use Disorder?

Drug addiction results from an individual’s irresistible urge to consume an addictive substance. Individuals generally start consuming it with an experimental intention, later falling prey to it—this disorder results in functional changes in the brain. Substances like marijuana, nicotine, opioids, etc., are drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that addiction causes disruptions in relationships, work, or on general life tasks. In addition, the risk of addiction depends on the type and dosage of the substances one consumes. For instance, opioids are commonly prescribed prescription painkillers that cause addiction faster, unlike other drugs.

Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is a severe medical condition involving the frequent overconsumption of alcohol despite its negative consequences.

Reasons Why Alcohol and Drug Addiction is a Disease

Drug and alcohol use disorder is considered a medical condition. Both alcohol and drugs disrupt the functionality of the prefrontal cortex, reducing an individual's ability to refrain from having addictive substances. The prefrontal cortex regulates the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of an individual.

The most important reason addiction is considered a serious disease is that it alters and impairs the functioning of the brain. These addictive substances disrupt neurotransmitter systems. In addition, prolonged consumption also impacts the functionality of neurons, which leads to abrupt changes in human behavior.

Both drugs and alcohol release higher levels of pleasure chemicals, dopamine, inside the brain, activating the brain's reward center. The release of dopamine prompts individuals to intake more addictive substances to enjoy the experience, making them fall into the vicious trap of addiction.

Causes of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction is caused due to several biological, behavioral, environmental, and psychological parameters.

Involves Genetic Factor

Even there is a significant role of genetics that is responsible for one’s addiction to an addictive substance like drugs or alcohol. It is further supported by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) that significant reasons behind developing addiction can be attributed to genetic factors and family history.

For instance, if a family of an individual has a history of addiction, it is more likely for the individual to be addicted to alcohol or drug as his or her brain structure and chemistry or genetic abnormalities will be in alignment with the relative's predisposition to addiction.

Behavioral Factor

Most individuals tend to be the prey of drug or alcohol addiction at a tender age. This is because consuming drugs or alcohol at a very young age changes the composition of the brain. Initially, such consumption results from experimental use or a personal choice.

However, with long-term usage, addiction sets in and affects an individual's behavioral aspect. The most striking sign of addiction is losing self-control. In case, a person tries to regain control, they might have to undergo extreme alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms.

Environmental Factor

Several environmental parameters also add to the development of addiction as a severe ailment. The community domains, parenting style, personal ties, or family dysfunction are some common reasons that lead to increased chances of developing drug or alcohol addiction.

Even the parent's level of supervision and avoidant parenting can push an individual towards substance addictions. In addition, peer pressure is a significant factor that prompts one to start consuming alcohol or drugs and later become highly dependent on these substances.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

Would you like more information about mental health or drug addiction? Reach out today.

How Does Addiction Function?

Any sort of addiction generally functions in three ways.

The Pleasure Principle

By releasing a controlled amount of dopamine, the brain regulates all pleasure activities. However, addictive substances like drugs or alcohol produce a lot of dopamine triggering the pleasure receptors and prompting individuals to opt for it repeatedly.

As large-scale consumption of these addictive substances is directly connected with dopamine release, it is one of the important reasons behind the increased likelihood of drug and alcohol addiction.

Learning Process

The learning process highlights how the released dopamine reacts with glutamate. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain remember stimuli that result in pleasure. So, when the surges in dopamine overwhelm the pleasure receptor, glutamate creates a memory for the same.

Glutamate prompts individuals to seek more environmental markers and develop an addiction.


The human brain does not get accustomed to dopamine surges naturally. So it is with repeated exposure to addictive substances when the increased release of dopamine overwhelms the brain; this results in either less dopamine production or a complete shutdown of dopamine receptors.

When dopamine production is reduced, glutamate promotes the same intensity of desire in individuals to have the addictive substances.

Is Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatable?

Patients can opt for different treatment methods for drug and alcohol addiction depending on their physical and mental health conditions.


The first and foremost treatment procedure involves medically assisted detoxification. Drug detox helps the body eliminate addictive substances and proves effective when used with other therapies.

Counseling and Behavioral Treatments

Co-occurring mental condition is very common when one has fallen prey to drug and alcohol addiction. Multiple counseling sessions prove effective in reducing drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. As addictions have a significant impact on the brain, it is imperative to retrain the mind and analyze the fatal outcomes of addiction.

In behavioral treatments, medical professionals, through counseling, aim to stop the drinking behavior of the individual. Receiving counseling sessions or talking therapies from a mental health counselor or a psychologist proves effective in curing a person of drug or alcohol addiction.

Behavioral therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Contingency Management (CM), and Motivation Enhancement Therapy (MET). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) assists individuals to recognize and cope with circumstances where they are triggered to use or consume drugs and alcohol.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), also known as drug replacement therapy, intends to replace the hazardous effect of drugs and alcohol use disorder with a positive sense of rehabilitation. Some of the medication that is used in this treatment procedure is Buprenorphine (sold in two forms: Subutex and Sublocade) and Naltrexone, sold under the name of ReVia and Vivitrol.

This treatment method helps to sail through the withdrawal symptoms easily. Furthermore, it helps in boosting deterrence from using addictive substances.

Signs to Detect Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms of drug addiction differ based on the type of drug being used or consumed by individuals,

For marijuana, hashish, and other addictive substances that contain cannabis:

  • Hypersensitivity toward auditory, taste, and visual perception

  • Dry mouth and red eyes

  • Extreme sense of euphoria

  • Anxiety or being in a state of paranoia

  • Impaired coordination and facing issues with remembering and concentration

  • Persistent cough, leading to severe lung infection

For barbiturates, hypnotics and benzodiazepines:

  • Slurred speech

  • Drowsiness

  • Absence of coordination

  • Involuntary eye movements

  • Lower blood pressure and slower breathing

  • Absence of inhibition

  • Irritability and mood swings

For meth, cocaine, or any stimulants:

  • Insomnia

  • Aggressive behavior and restlessness

  • Fluctuation in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure

  • Impaired mucous membrane of the nose and nasal congestion

  • Nausea and abrupt weight loss

  • Gum disease, mouth sores, and decaying teeth

  • Hallucination and delusion

For hallucinogens (LCD and PCP):

  • Impulsive and violent behavior

  • Hallucinations

  • Tremors

  • High blood pressure and heart rate

  • Flashbacks

  • Issues with movement and proper coordination

  • Absence of the sensation of pain

  • Intolerance to loud sound

  • Involuntary eye movement

  • Seizures or coma

For opioid drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers:

  • Slurred speech

  • Lower or no sensation of pain

  • Agitation

  • Confusion and problems with memory and attention

  • Size of pupil changes

Signs to Detect Alcohol Use Disorder

The following symptoms can help to identify whether a person has become addicted to alcohol or drugs:

  • An intense urge to consume drugs every day that does not let one think about something else.

  • Individuals will develop a high tolerance level towards both addictive substances, demanding them to intake larger amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect.

  • In the case of alcohol addiction, individuals tend to prefer alcohol to any healthy food. Even individuals start cutting back on a day's daily activities.

  • Feeling cranky when not getting drugs or alcohol.

  • Continuing on large-scale consumption of alcohol, knowing its apparent negative impact on an individual's social, mental, or physical well-being

Lastly, failing in all attempts to stop using the drug; when the effects of the drug or alcohol have started weaning off, the individual has started facing withdrawal symptoms like depression, nausea, sweating, sleeping trouble, etc.

Both drug and alcohol consumption increase sensitivity towards the amygdala over time, making individuals encounter unpleasant feelings.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

Do you have more questions about mental health or drug addiction? Reach out.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Withdrawal is the first step of drug and alcohol addiction treatment and needs to be conducted in a carefully monitored way with the support of professional services.

Individuals will undergo the following alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they try to limit or stop their drinking habits:

  • Depression, anxiety and irritability

  • Higher heart rate and restlessness

  • Impaired sleeping pattern

  • Hallucinations

  • Delirium tremens etc.

  • Here are the symptoms of drug withdrawal symptoms.

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dilated pupils

  • Tremors

  • Insomnia, depression, and anxiety

  • Paranoia

  • Seizures etc.

Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Mental Health

Untreated drug and alcohol addiction can have fatal consequences on the physical and mental health of an individual. Most significantly, if the addiction is left untreated, the diseases might prove life-threatening as well.

The continuous consumption of drugs releases chemicals in the brain system that alters the composition, thereby changing the way it is involved with motivation, memory, and reward. The human brain gets used to the rewarding substance and lowers reaction to those chemicals, prompting individuals to consume the addictive substance in larger amounts.

This is the reason individuals tend to develop intense cravings and might show withdrawal symptoms if they wish to limit their intake.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a multifaceted concern that affects individuals from different walks of life. Continuous use of addictive substances like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, etc., alters the functioning of the brain. Hence, several medical associations consider addictions a severe brain disease.

The Forge Recovery Center is the Drug and Alcohol Rehab You Are Looking For!

Opt for a comprehensive drug and alcohol addiction treatment program at The Forge Recovery Center. We provide dual diagnosis treatment programs, MAT therapy, EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy), etc.

Our premium-class drug and alcohol rehab center offers evidence-based care and individualized treatment plans. In addition, we emphasize arranging frequent outdoor trips to build a valuable bond. Contact The Forge Recovery Center today for further details.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are drugs highly addictive?

Individuals tend to get addicted to drugs because these substances provide them with a temporary feeling of pleasure and motivation. This feeling of euphoria triggers the brain's reward system, fueling intense cravings and developing a toxic habit loop.

How does methamphetamine affect an individual?

Methamphetamines like cocaine or opiates are highly addictive drugs that result in several health consequences like psychotic behavior, convulsions, frail body, lowered immunity, increased libido, etc. In case of overdose, it can lead to seizures or death.

What are the signs and symptoms of inhalant addiction?

Inhalants like paint thinners, glue, gasoline, etc., are some addictive substances whose abuse shows symptoms like – dizziness, nausea, uncontrolled impulse, involuntary movements, aggressive behavior, tremors, etc.

What medications are used to treat drug and alcohol addiction?

Medications like Methadone, Naltrexone, Buprenorphine, etc., are used in treating drugs like opioid addiction. For treating alcohol addiction, Acamprosate, Disulfiram, etc., are used.

What is Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)?

Multi-Dimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) is a family-centered drug and alcohol addiction treatment procedure for youths who are struggling with substance use disorder focusing on their emotional and social needs.

Newsletter banner

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay updated with the latest news, resources, and updates from The Forge Recovery Center.