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NIDA. (2010, February 2). Word of the Day: Disease. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
February 2 2010
PET images of health brain activity compared to a drug user
This picture is showing us an inside view of the brain from the top down. It compares healthy brain activity (left side, with all the red areas) with diminished brain activity in a drug user (right side).

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word disease? You might think of cancer, diabetes, or epilepsy. But do you think of drug abuse? Probably not. But, for some people, drug abuse can lead to a disease called addiction.

A disease is when something in the body doesn't work like it's supposed to-an organ or a whole system has something wrong with it and disrupts functioning. Diseases can be caused by many different factors, from your genes (what you inherited from your parents) to germs and viruses to not getting the vitamins that your body needs to stay healthy.

Some diseases can be cured with medication or changes in lifestyle and may never come back. Others are chronic diseases, meaning they last for a long time or can come back again.

Addiction is a chronic disease. Drugs change the way the brain works, and using them can lead to addiction. Once a person is addicted to a drug, they feel the need to take that drug over and over just to feel like their "normal" self. Tracking down and taking the drug usually becomes more important than eating, sleeping, dating, doing school work, or earning money.

Even if they stop using drugs, people with addiction have brains that have been chemically altered, making them vulnerable to relapse (resuming drug use).

To learn more, take a look at The Science of Addiction. Share something you didn't know before.