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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Addiction: Disease or Choice

What is addiction? What causes it? Do you choose addiction or does it choose you? All of these may be questions that pop up in your head when you hear the word “addiction”. You have probably heard of that term before. Truth is, a majority of us are exposed to addiction in one way or another. There are about 20-22 million people in the United States alone that are suffering from a drug addiction. Although, drug addiction is only a small fraction of the different addictions out there in the world currently. Alcohol, gambling, sex, and shopping addictions are all some of the common ones we face today. But what really causes us to have these addictions? Is it genetics? Or do we really choose our own fate when we pick up a bad habit?

What is addiction?

Addiction comes in many different forms, but it all really has one thing in common: Dopamine. Dopamine is a neuro transmitter found in the brain that is responsible for sending signals from neuron to neuron. Dopamine specifically targets the brains reward and pleasure centers and helps to regulate your emotional responses. For example, drugs provide an increase of Dopamine in your brain, which in turn gives you the feeling of pleasure and happiness. The same goes for other forms of addiction (food, shopping, gambling, etc.). That increase in Dopamine will give you a high feeling, but once that wears off, the low feels lower than before, leaving you wanting more. Each time you do drugs, you increase your dependency on Dopamine each time. In reality, its not technically the drugs you’re addicted to, but the high they give you. You become addicted to the Dopamine, and the drugs are what give it to you.

What influences addiction?

Now that we got down to the basic chemistry of the brain, and how addiction forms, we know that drugs aren’t what cause the addiction, its Dopamine. So, if it’s caused but Dopamine, then why do people choose drugs? That can be answered by the following influences: genetics and environment. If you’re exposed to things such as drugs and alcohol at an early age, then the likeliness of you becoming addicted are higher. Genetics also play a role in this. According to a study done in Sweden by Dr. Robert Cloninger that used men who were given up for adoption as babies, “the biological father’s drinking pattern was a better predictor of alcohol abuse in the adopted son than the father by adoption’s drinking pattern. For instance, the rates of alcoholism for boys whose biological fathers were severe alcoholics were nearly identical regardless of whether their adoptive father was an alcoholic or teetotaler.” (Heyman 2009). There is still debate on whether genetics play a large role in predicting addiction in offspring. Most of which study the voluntary and involuntary behaviors associated with addiction.

Is it really a mental illness?

There has been an age long debate on whether or not addiction should be treated as a mental illness. Some say that addiction is a choice, and that we should feel no sympathy for addicts, whereas others say that it’s a disease “a “chronic illness” that should be classified with diseases like asthma and diabetes (Heyman 2009). How do we truly discover whether it is a choice or not? By studying the Voluntary and Involuntary behaviors associated with addiction, we gain explanation as to why addiction should not be considered a choice, but treated as a disease of the mind. Examples of the involuntary behaviors are the increase of Dopamine, the withdrawal you feel after trying to quit, and the dependency you feel towards you vice of choice. All of those, and many others, explain why addiction is more than just “choice”. The choice factor only comes into play when you choose the vice to your addiction. Being influenced with the factors discussed before, you choose what you become addicted to.


Addiction has affected many people, whether you or someone you know has been touched by it. It has been known to destroy the relationships and the lives of those who suffer from it. By studying the factors that influence addiction, we can discover ways to not just prevent addiction, but replace harmful addictions with beneficial vices (exercise, reading, and art). There is no clear and concise conclusion to this debate, but there is a path paved for us to prevent addiction from happening, and treat those suffering from it. With the proper treatment, we can help prevent recovering addicts from relapsing. Although it’s only a small start, it’s a giant leap forward for finding ways to prevent and treat addiction.



Heyman, G. (2009). Addiction: A Disorder of Choice. Cambridge: Harvard UP.


Volkow, N., Koob, G. Mclellan, A., & Longo, D. (2016). Neurobiologic Advances from the       Brain Disease Model of Addiction. New England Journal ofMedicine, 374(4), 363-371.          DOI: 10.1056/nejmra1511480


American Psychiatric Association (2017). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from   


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