Current research shows that drug and alcohol addiction (referred to as ‘substance addiction’) is a disease of the brain. Substance addiction is a pattern of alcohol or drug consumption, which impairs the person’s ability to live an enjoyable and worthwhile life, and usually degrades the quality of their work or education as well as their interpersonal relationships.
Individuals addicted to drugs or alcohol have had experienced functional changes to their brains that make them highly susceptible to these substances. Their condition could be compared to people who have allergic reactions to specific foods such as shellfish. It these foods are eaten, the affected person has little or no control over the subsequent reaction.
Likewise, the person with an alcoholic or drug addiction cannot control results of their drinking or using drugs. While many people might drink occasionally or may have experimented with drugs, they may not develop ‘an allergic’ reaction to these substances.
This food allergy metaphor for drug addiction helps to explain why those who are addicted cannot control their reactions to drugs or alcohol. However, once an individual develops a drug or alcohol addiction, their brain continues to crave the substance they have become addicted to. It is easy to tell a person with a shell food allergy to simply stop eating shellfish. For individuals with an addiction, this does not work because their brains continue to demand that they use the alcohol or drugs.