Addiction is a chronic, often fatal disease that causes obsessive and compulsive drug seeking behaviors, and use despite harmful consequences to the addict and to those around them. Drug addiction is a brain disease simply because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. There are many biological factors that are involved with the addicted brain. "The addicted brain is distinctly different from the non-addicted brain, as manifested by changes in brain metabolic activity, receptor availability, gene expression, and responsiveness to environmental cues" (Leshner, 1997). In the brain, there are many changes that take place when drugs enter a person's blood stream. The pathway in the brain that the drugs take is first to the ventral tegmentum to the nucleus accumbens, and the drugs also go to the limbic system and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is called the mesolimbic reward system. “The activation of this reward system seems to be the common element in what hooks drug users on drugs” (Leshner,
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person who is addicted to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, there are treatments that help people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects and regain control. Treatment approaches that are tailored to each patient’s drug abuse patterns and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems can lead to sustained recovery and a life without drug abuse.
Similar to other chronic relapsing diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, drug addiction can be managed successfully. As with other chronic diseases, it is not uncommon for a person to relapse and begin abusing drugs again. Relapse, however, does not signal failure rather, it indicates that treatment should be reinstated, adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed to help the individual regain control and recover.