Addiction: The disease that lies
July 26th, 2011
04:13 PM ET

Addiction: The disease that lies

Marvin Seppala, M.D., is the chief medical officer of Hazelden, a private not-for-profit alcohol and drug addiction treatment organization.

I learned of four addiction-related deaths this weekend. Three were people I knew in Portland, Oregon, recovery circles and the fourth was Amy Winehouse.

Tragically one must get used to such news if you spend a lot of time with those who have this disease. Whenever someone with addiction dies, I grieve the lost potential and wonder about the limitations of our ability to address this cunning, baffling and powerful disease.

I am also humbled by my own experience with addiction and recovery, and grateful for the help I received.

It seems nearly impossible to believe that people with addiction would continue to use drugs and alcohol to the point of death, but that is what people with addiction do:  They  deny both the consequences and the risks of using. As we continue to learn about addiction, we’re understanding  more about  why addicted people behave the way they do. But that’s little solace for friends and family.

Addiction is a brain disease, and our knowledge of it has expanded significantly, which has informed our treatment programs and altered our perceptions. We know that addiction resides in the limbic system, a subconscious part of our brain that is involved with memory, emotion and reward.

We refer to this area of the brain as the reward center, as it ensures that all rewarding or reinforcing activities, especially those associated with our survival, are prioritized. The reward center makes sure we survive by eating, drinking fluids, having sex (for survival of the species) and maintaining human interactions.

In late stages of addiction we can see how reward-related drives, especially those for survival, are reprioritized when people risk their families, their jobs, even their lives to continue to use drugs and alcohol. The continued use of the drug becomes the most important drive, at a subconscious level and unrecognized by the individual, undermining even life itself.

When a methamphetamine-addicted mother makes the nightly news after neglecting her children for four days while on a meth run, we can’t comprehend how anyone could do such a thing and tend to think she does not love her children. She may have been going out for groceries with the intent to return home and feed her children, but ran into a dealer and started using.

Addiction took over, and she was driven by subconscious forces even though she loves her children as much as I love mine. Her love and her natural instincts to care for and nurture her children were overridden by her own brain, the reward system  reprogrammed to seek and use drugs at all costs. Unbeknownst to her, drug use has become the most important thing in her life.

When we witness the incomprehensible behaviors associated with addiction we need to remember these people have a disease, one that alters their brain and their behaviors. We tend to believe we all have free will, so it is difficult to understand how the addicts' perception has been so altered as to drive them to destruction.

We also assume they can make their own decisions, especially when it comes to help for their addiction. In so doing we are expecting the person with a diseased brain to accept the unacceptable, that the continued use of drugs is not providing relief from the problem - it is the problem, and they need to stop that which has become paramount.

They are unable to make such decisions because their brains have been altered to prioritize use of the drugs, even above survival itself.

Relief of psychic pain, the real, unimaginable pain of addiction, is part of the problem. People have many reasons for seeking relief from pain; some pain precedes the addiction, but most pain is the result of the addiction.

The addicted neglect their primary relationships and they may lie, cheat and steal to continue drug use. And they know this at some level, they recognize their uncontrolled behaviors, but they can’t change, they can’t stop.

Hopelessness becomes a way of life. Self-loathing, shame and guilt become the norm as the consequences of continued drug use accumulate.

They use drugs to ease the pain, but the very remedy exacerbates the problem. The answer to their dilemma goes unrecognized due to the neurobiological changes that have occurred in their brains.

The good news is that treatment is effective and specifically designed to help people recognize the problem within. Most people are coerced into treatment for one reason or another; they may be facing legal issues, job loss or divorce.

With good treatment their likelihood for recovery and abstinence is just as good as the minority who seek treatment of their own accord. Unfortunately, less than 10% of those with addiction recognize they have it and seek treatment.

This is the primary reason people don’t seek help. Our largest public health problem goes unrecognized by those with the disease.

Every one of these deaths is tragic. They died of a disease that lies to them. Amy Winehouse had incredible musical talent that enthralled the masses, but she became known as much for her struggle with addiction.

We can safely watch such a tragedy, gawking as we drive by the destruction, insulated from the suffering and unable to help. But addiction is all around us and we need to respond to the rising death toll.

All of us are responsible for learning the truth about addiction, raising awareness and intervening for those who have this disease, knowing they are unlikely to be able to do so for themselves.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter.

« Previous entry
soundoff (454 Responses)
  1. JbbnEncox

    cialis daily available canada cialis kim kullanamaz micardis and cialis

    February 10, 2021 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. sartenes induccion ikea

    I do believe all the ideas you have introduced for your post. They're really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for newbies. Could you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.


    February 11, 2021 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JbnvCrulk

    never use payday loans payday loans hillsboro tx payday loans kw

    February 11, 2021 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. tadalafil 40 mg from india

    tadalafil pill https://tadalisxs.com/ mambo 36 ingredients

    February 11, 2021 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. buy hydroxychloroquine

    hydroxychloroquine sulfate 200 mg oral tablet https://hydroxychloroquinex.com/ quinoline sulfate

    February 11, 2021 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. chloroquin

    cloroquin https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloronique

    February 11, 2021 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. buy zithromax z-pak

    zithro https://zithromaxes.com/ generic name for zithromax

    February 11, 2021 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kbbfseelt

    buy real viagra viagra online canada best prices for generic viagra

    February 13, 2021 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. FqbbEncox

    capital one venture credit card cash advance instant payday loan companies money loans parramatta

    February 13, 2021 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. FbsgZisse

    cialis without perscripiton buy cialis singapore cheap cialis with dapoxetine

    February 15, 2021 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. KvaxMile

    payday loan direct lender uk think money loan application loan money centrelink

    February 15, 2021 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. LabxEncox

    buy cialis and viagra online que tan buena es cialis cialis donde comprar en chile

    February 16, 2021 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. AhbzEncox

    money now loan taxes http://www.dot cash advance support.com hard money loans for primary residence in florida

    February 17, 2021 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. WEXX Astrological Studio

    Are you looking for a new girlfriend or boyfriend? Did you found several potential candidates for your new partner, but you need to decide who will be the best one? We can help you to make this critical decision. We can evolve a highly accurate and detailed Compatibility Of Partners report for you and your potential partner(s). This analysis will help you to establish an excellent and long-lasting relationship with your new partner. Please check the sample Compatibility Of Partners report at: https://astrologicalstudio.com/PDF/Samples/Brianna_Ronald_Compatibility.pdf. We will be delighted to hear from you. Have a great day. Best regards Brian WRIGHT Eng., WEXX ASTROLOGICAL STUDIO, Denver, CO, sales@astrologicalstudio.com, https://astrologicalstudio.com


    February 17, 2021 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. zortilonrel

    Thanks for another informative blog. Where else could I get that type of information written in such an ideal way? I've a project that I'm just now working on, and I've been on the look out for such information.


    February 18, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. AbcfTeneseelt

    generic viagra, canadian pharmacy http://viagriyvik.com/ viagra side effect or addiction

    February 18, 2021 at 02:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. zortilonrel

    Some really nice stuff on this web site, I love it.


    February 18, 2021 at 03:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. plaquenil 200

    cheapest erectile med best time to take plaquenil how erectile dysfunction affects reproduction

    February 18, 2021 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. buy face masks

    Your common sense should be taken as the benchmark when discussing this topic.


    February 18, 2021 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. NbnhZisse

    can i buy over the counter viagra discount viagra from india over the counter viagra

    February 18, 2021 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. zortilo nrel

    I am glad to be one of many visitants on this great website (:, appreciate it for putting up.


    February 18, 2021 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. imgur properties in cyprus

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.

    I will bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.
    I'm quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right
    here! Best of luck for the next!

    February 21, 2021 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. kikki k stickers

    Having look at this I thought it was rather informative.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to get this content together.
    One time i again find myself spending a lot
    of time both reading and commenting. But just what exactly,
    it was actually still worth the cost!

    my site – kikki k stickers

    February 24, 2021 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. what is clonidine

    does chloroquine work quinine chlorodine

    February 24, 2021 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. frolep rotrem

    This is a topic close to my heart cheers, where are your contact details though?


    February 26, 2021 at 05:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. vreyro linomit

    Hello, Neat post. There is an issue with your web site in internet explorer, could test this?K IE still is the market leader and a good part of people will pass over your great writing due to this problem.


    February 26, 2021 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. froleprotrem

    I visited a lot of website but I conceive this one has something special in it in it


    February 28, 2021 at 03:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. froleprotrem

    I'm not sure exactly why but this weblog is loading extremely slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a problem on my end? I'll check back later and see if the problem still exists.


    February 28, 2021 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. ClarkTauts

    zv91x g72ky 5fok

    February 28, 2021 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Omer Rueger

    Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having trouble finding one? Thanks a lot!


    March 1, 2021 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. KndnMile

    buy cheap viagra on line viagra buy pfizer viagra

    March 1, 2021 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. FjjuZisse

    viagra generic cost do i need a prescription for viagra women on viagra

    March 2, 2021 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Amy Lisowe


    March 4, 2021 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. w88

    w88Games are played by children and kids of wholly eld to savour relaxation method at its Charles Herbert Best and delight meter full stop with friends.


    March 5, 2021 at 07:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Everett Kwak

    I've been browsing on-line greater than three hours nowadays, yet I never found any fascinating article like yours. It¡¦s pretty value sufficient for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content material as you did, the internet might be a lot more helpful than ever before.


    March 6, 2021 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Ross Cowell

    You can definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren't afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart. "A second wife is hateful to the children of the first a viper is not more hateful." by Euripides.


    March 6, 2021 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. zippered wallet insert for chic sparrow sidekick

    Which is a very good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.

    Short but very accurate information… Many thanks for sharing this.
    A necessity read post!

    Here is my blog – zippered wallet insert for chic sparrow sidekick

    March 6, 2021 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Dr. Kenan Şimşek

    I was suggested this web site by means of my cousin. I'm not certain whether
    this publish is written through him as nobody else realize
    such exact approximately my trouble. You're incredible!
    Thank you!

    March 6, 2021 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Ackies

    I would like to demonstrate thanks to you simply regarding bailing everyone from this unique difficulties. As a result of looking at over the the web and achieving strategies which were certainly not productive, My spouse and i was pondering my entire life has been done.


    March 8, 2021 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. notebook kit

    Hey! I really desired to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and that i finished up losing
    several months of work on account of no data backup. Have you got any methods to control hackers?

    Feel free to visit my website :: notebook kit

    March 10, 2021 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. sex books on wattpad

    w88Afterwards a jump skip to the ground, you deliver to take on charge of your have survival – skin in shelters, accept self-will of weapons, equipment, vehicles and early substance of sprightliness support, simultaneously ingress into skirmishes and fist fights with opponents.


    March 11, 2021 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. sildenafil cost compare 100 mg

    200mg sildenafil soft gel capsule https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil 60mg

    March 14, 2021 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. buy erectile dysfunction meds

    erectile home remedy https://erectiledysfunctionpillscvs.com/ for erectile health and better blood flow

    March 14, 2021 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. how to adminiter transurethral alprostadil muse video

    injectable drugs for erectile dysfunction https://alprostadildrugs.com/ alprostadil suppository

    March 15, 2021 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. combigan

    brimonidine use brimonidine

    March 16, 2021 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. avanafil

    avana buy avanafil

    March 16, 2021 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Megalis

    buy tadalafil megalis tadalafil 10mg

    March 16, 2021 at 07:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. 77lottoco

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new
    comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added
    I get four emails with the exact same comment.
    Is there a means you can remove me from that service?

    Many thanks!

    March 18, 2021 at 02:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. generic tadalafil 40 mg

    tadalafil pills 20mg https://elitadalafill.com/ buy tadalafil us

    March 18, 2021 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. 77lottobet

    I feel this is one of the such a lot significant information for me.
    And i'm satisfied reading your article. However should
    commentary on few basic issues, The site taste is wonderful, the articles is actually excellent : D.
    Excellent process, cheers

    March 18, 2021 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.