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Addiction a brain disease or moral condition?

clin's picture

Addiction a brain disease or moral condition?



What is it that makes some of us become addicted to particular substances? We know it's bad for us, yet we repeatedly go back to it time after time, subjecting our body to drugs that have no survival or nutritional value. The act of addiction has brought countless debates onto the table of neurobiology: When does addiction become detrimental to the human body and damage the brain?
" All addictive drugs exert pharmacological effects that cause release of dopamine. Moreover, the effects of addictive drugs on dopamine release are quantitatively greater than that produced by natural rewards under almost all circumstances." 1
Though normally a learning signal for the brain, dopamine becomes more intense to the drug addict when drugs come into use. Normally, dopamine is released when something new comes unexpectedly into a world where everything seems orderly and circumstances are mundane. The pharmacological action in addictive drugs increases the synaptic dopamine, causing the normal controls of the brain to be cut off. This enables the dopamine in the addictive drugs to send excessively " better than expected" signals to the addict. Being bombarded by these pleasant signals, the circuits in the neural system go into overdrive and soak up an unhealthy and extreme amount of dopamine signals. When this occurs, the neural system starts to crave for the " better than" sensations caused by the drugs. What is considered a normal amount of dopamine release becomes trivial to the drug addict and in the course of such a superfluous amount of dopamine signal, drugs become glorified above all matters in life.
Even if an addict attempts to terminate the use of drugs, the changes in the synaptic structure and weight of the brain will have been fixed deep into the neuro-system, causing a long-lasting altercation in the biology of the brain, leading to relapses that are persistent and cannot be rid of. Drug addiction becomes embedded into the addict's brain, leaving him helpless against the cravings for the " better than" feelings. Drugs become an integral part of life for the user, even though its effects are detrimental in the long run. Though the user knows this, he continues on with the drug use, subjecting himself to greater dangers the dopamine will cause to his brain. When does drug use become a disease rather than a moral condition?
"Those who argue for the disease model not only believe it is justified by empirical data, but also see virtue in the possibility that a disease model decreases the stigmatization of addicted people and increases their access to medical treatments. Those who argue that addiction is best conceptualized as a moral condition are struck by the observation that drug seeking and drug taking involve a series of voluntary acts that often require planning and flexible responses to changing conditions - not simply impulsive or robotic acts." 2
Though both arguments are completely logical and deliver assurance, it is fine line that can easily be crossed. For addiction to become a brain disease, the addict would have to administer multiple drug usages for the structure of the brain to change and develop a thirst for a greater synaptic dopamine dosage. Each time the addict uses means a greater chance for the brain to reroute itself. However, each time the addict uses, he is fully and consciously aware of the consequences of his actions. Being well aware would mean he is morally performing an act that would without doubt damage the body. Whether it is a moral condition or a brain disease, both are paths that the addict will walk. Though clinical tests can prove the elements of a disease, it is the addict's choice to open himself to such elements, leaving it to be a moral problem. The fine line between whether it is addiction is a disease or a moral condition may never be cleared and given an accurate definition, however, addiction comes with a price: morally and neurologically losing one's soul and mind.


drug and alcohol rehab center's picture

I would definitely go for

I would definitely go for brain disease, addiction is something very hard to control, very hard to heal and it's effects can be disastrous sometimes. So no, I don't think addiction is a moral condition at all... Convince yourself just by taking a closer look to a drug and alcohol rehab center.

drug rehab's picture


I think people will try to make a profit out of anything, that's what we are : money dependent.

Francisco's picture

Drugs to stop the use of drugs

I just finished reading an article at, entitled "New Drug Helps Smokers Quit," After I was done reading it, I asked myself "It is not socially or morally accepted to be addicted to an uncontrolled drug. However if you pay taxes for it all of the sudden it becomes accepted." What are your thoughts on this?