Two decades of advancements in neuroscience have revealed what’s going on in the brain. For instance, research has shown that addiction affects the brain’s reward circuitry, such that memories of previous experiences with food, sex, alcohol and other drugs trigger cravings and more addictive behaviors. Brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is also altered in the brains of individuals suffering with addiction, resulting in the nonsensical pursuit of “rewards,” such as alcohol and other drugs.
A long-standing debate has roiled over whether those with addiction have a choice over their behaviors, said Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine. “The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them,” Hajela said in a statement. “Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.” Even so, Hajela pointed out, choice does play a role in getting help. “Because there is no pill which alone can cure addiction, choosing recovery over unhealthy behaviors is necessary,” Hajela said.