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Addiction Defined Print E-mail

“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem.  It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas.  Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts.  But the disease is about brains, not drugs.  It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.”

-- Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM

 

drugsThe American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a primary, chronic brain disease characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.  Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

  • Addiction is a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes such as emotional or psychiatric problems.
  • Addiction is a chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a life‐time.
  • The disease of addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward circuitry of the brain, leading to addictive behaviors that supplant healthy behaviors.
  • Outward behaviors are actually manifestations of an underlying disease that involves various areas of the brain.
  • Brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is altered in this disease, resulting in the dysfunctional pursuit of rewards such as alcohol and other drugs.
  • The brain is still developing during teen‐age years, which may be why early exposure to alcohol and drugs is related to greater likelihood of addiction later in life.
  • As in other health conditions, self-management, with mutual support, is very important in recovery from addiction. Peer support such as that found in various “self-help” activities is beneficial in optimizing health status and functional outcomes in recovery.
 

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