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Addiction Labeled as a Chronic Brain Disorder

During the week of 15 August 2011 the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) labeled addiction as a chronic brain disorder not just a behavioral problem.  A couple of major points need to be underscored here. 

“This disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions" says Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM.  The neurological disorders can be targeted, treated and healed much more effectively through treatment and recovery than applying external behavioral punishments such as jailing, institutionalizing or otherwise stigmatizing addicts. 

What’s extraordinary is that it took four years and consultation with over 80 different clinical experts from a variety of fields before making this announcement.  This definition for addiction is intended to be incontrovertible.

"Choice still plays an important role in getting help. While the neurobiology of choice may not be fully understood, a person with addiction must make choices for a healthier life in order to enter treatment and recovery. Because there is no pill which alone can cure addiction, choosing recovery over unhealthy behaviors is necessary," Dr. Raju Hajela, past President of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, said.

The sophistication of brain function is impossible to adequately describe in this limited forum. What we can state is that the brain’s reward system is hijacked by alcohol and drug use and about 10% of the American population suffers from some degree of addiction to these substances.  An interesting footnote is how some foods, gambling and other behaviors hijack the brain in a similar way.

Addiction re-defined should open the door for those reluctant or too stigmatized to seek help.  This new focus on addiction should help medical doctors make the referral to treatment for their patients who suffer from addiction.

In the words of Dr. Miller. "We have to stop moralizing, blaming, controlling or smirking at the person with the disease of addiction, and start creating opportunities for individuals and families to get help by providing assistance in choosing proper treatment."

Keywords:  Addiction, treatment, recovery

S. Darcy

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