Is Drug Addiction a Disease?

One of the stigmas that come with being a drug addict is that people assume you chose to do drugs. Sure, you decided to do drugs the first time you did it. You didn’t choose to be an addict. Nobody would choose to be an addict. For first responders, an added stigma on top of that shame comes with what they do for a living. They save lives. How can they save lives if they can’t save themselves? 

When it comes to drug addiction for first responders, it’s easier to begin accepting you need help when you realize it really is a disease. Because it is.

Drug Addiction is a Disease

In its simplest form, drug addiction is a compulsion to use substances that alter your mind or body. Everything from hard drugs like cocaine and heroin to opioids you get to combat pain after surgery can lead to drug addiction. This type of addiction is considered a medical disorder.

These drugs change your brain chemistry, thought patterns, and other biological responses long-term, sometimes after just one use. The long-term side effects of drug addiction also persist after recovery, just like many other diseases.

Many of the leading drug and alcohol organizations, as well as health organizations, such as The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) characterize drug addiction as a disease.

Even the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes drug addiction as a diagnosis but no longer uses the term to describe it. Instead, they diagnose by the term “substance use disorder.” This also encompasses alcohol addiction. This term highlights the habitual and compulsive use of substances to alter the mind or body.

Drug addiction isn’t just categorized as a disease because of its immediate and long-term impact but also by the potential for relapse. Just like heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, you can have a timeframe with no symptoms and no issues, only to be set back by something happening – in the case of a drug addict, a relapse.

Why is Drug Addiction an Issue for First Responders?

While some don’t believe that drug addiction or alcohol abuse is a disease, citing socioeconomic issues and environmental factors to be the leading cause of addiction, this can lead to those needing help not believing they genuinely need help.

For first responders who need to be in control on the job, being told that drug addiction isn’t a disease and something they can beat on their own can be detrimental to them getting the help they need.

Drug addiction can be an issue for first responders for a variety of reasons:

  • The stress of the job becomes too much to handle, especially on bad days
  • Work-related injury drives them to find a way to handle the pain
  • Prescription opioids can lead to long-term dependency that escalates
  • Issues with family and friends can arise from long hours away from home

Drug use convinces addicts that it's okay to use it as a crutch to get through the day. Whatever reason the addict is using a particular drug – to get high, to relax, to sleep, etc. – becomes addictive because it gives them a sense that everything is going to be okay. Over time, the addictive properties of a particular drug make it hard to stop.

How Can First Responders Get Help for Drug Addiction?

First responders need to know they’re not alone. That’s one of the reasons First Responders First was founded. We understand the unique challenges, issues, and stigma first responders face. We want to help them with drug addiction, alcohol issues, and mental health problems that arise from being the heroes they are.

First Responders First is dedicated to helping these heroes regain the control they’ve lost and get back on their feet again to do what they do best – save lives.