A chronic brain disease
Addiction is a chronic brain disease which causes mental and physical harm. As a person drinks alcohol or takes drugs the brain releases the chemical dopamine which stimulates the ‘reward circuits’ of the brain. Thus the brain associates drinking alcohol and taking drugs with a pleasurable reward. The brain forms lasting memories associating drugs or alcohol with this reward and so the drug taking and drinking become compulsive. As addiction to alcohol and drugs becomes established, neurochemical changes take place in the brain of the user which affect their self-control and decision making processes.
Addiction to alcohol and drugs has traditionally defined the term ‘addiction’, however people can also become addicted to certain behaviours such as gambling. These behaviours cause a release of chemicals in the brain as a ‘reward’, and this is what the brain gets addicted to.
People suffering from addiction will experience an overriding impulse to continue their behaviour, despite the harm it is causing.
This illness is characterised by denial and many people do not seek help until the addiction is severe and causing serious distress to themselves, their family & friends.