Myth or Fact? “Addiction Is a Choice"

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Addiction word cloud in the shape of a person's profile.

©Shutterstock/Andrii Kondiuk

Have you ever heard someone say that addiction is a choice? What they probably mean is they think that the person could stop using drugs if they really wanted to. But addiction doesn’t work that way.

It’s true that not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted. People react to drugs differently. There's no rule about how soon someone becomes addicted.

And it is a choice to use a drug for the first time.

However, the fact is that addiction is not a choice.

The first time a person takes a drug, they might like how it makes them feel. They believe they can control how much and how often they take the drug. But drugs can take away their control.

If the person continues to use the drug, after a while they might need to take the drug just to feel normal. They might start taking more, just to get the same high. The person might keep using the drug, even though it starts hurting their life.

They might spend a lot of time trying to get more of the drug. Seeking and using drugs might start hurting their loved ones, but the person still can’t stop. These are signs of an addiction.

Addiction is not a choice; it’s a brain disease. Drugs can change how the brain works, and those changes can last for a long time.

An addiction is an illness, just like heart disease and cancer are illnesses. An addiction is not a weakness. It can happen to anyone and at any age. But the chances for addiction are higher when a person starts using drugs when they’re young.

Learn more: Is teen drug use related to brain size?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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