Research has shown that prolonged drug use causes a chemical change in the brain of the addict that alters the brain's reward system that prompts compulsive drug seeking in behavior called the pathological pursuit of rewards.
For many addicts, addiction can become a chronic illness, meaning that they can have relapses similar to relapses than can happen with other chronic diseases - such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension - when patients fail to comply with their treatment.
These relapses can occur even after long periods of abstinence.
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American Society of Addiction Medicine. "The Definition of Addiction (Long Version). 15 August 2011.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Frequently Asked Questions." The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction. Accessed February 2014