Is Drug Addiction Really a Mental Illness?


Most people look at drug addiction as a social or criminal issue. But one researcher claims it is actually a mental illness.

"Addiction is a brain disease because differences in the way our brains function make some people more likely to become addicted to drugs than others-just as differences in our bodies make some people more likely to develop cancer or heart disease," said Lynn Oswald, PhD, RN, and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

According to a report from Medical News Today, Oswald is working on a study that will attempt to figure out why some people become addicted to drugs and others don't.

"There is growing evidence that vulnerability for substance abuse may stem from pre-existing variances in brain function," she said. "These variations could be something that a person is born with or the result of changes that take place later on."

Using brain scans, Oswald and her team will look into whether certain factors affect brain dopamine systems in ways that could increase a person's risk for drug abuse.

"Right now we know that certain things such as stress and impulsivity are associated with greater risks for addiction, but we don't know why," Oswald said.

The five-year, $3 million study is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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