A New Definition of Addiction

The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) in their April 12, 2011 policy statement Definition of Addiction (Long Version), “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”

The effects of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) on brain function have been quite clear for some time. The new definition brings special attention to how dysfunctions of the brain in particular motivation, memory, and brain reward centers appear abnormal and thereby help to explain the behaviors of addiction.

I have been an advocate for eliminating the stigma of addiction. When society defines addiction in moral terms it carries a moral stigma: people look down on the individual who is addicted.

What we see in terms of treating addiction will not immediately be affected by this new definition. It should however play a major part in where research is targeted in the future.

I think most people who are addicted or are in recovery from addiction wish there was a magic pill to take the addiction away. There is no such pill and the dream of it may be far into the future. However, this move to identify addiction as a ‘brain disease’ is a huge step toward other breakthroughs for addicts.

ASAM suggests half of all addictions relate to genetic factors and the others have to do with how environmental factors relate to the individuals biology. Resilience is also a factor in addiction. Some people simply are more resilient than others and these factors appear to be protective as they relate to addiction.

The characteristics of Addiction according to ASAM are:

  • Abstain- Inability to abstain
  • Behavioral-Impaired behavioral control
  • Cravings- increased cravings for rewarding experiences
  • Diminished- Recognition of significant problems with behavior is diminished
  • Emotional-Dysfunctional emotional response

The recommendation from ASAM in representing the new definition of addiction suggests recovery is achieved best achieved through:

  • Mutual Support
  • Self Management
  • Professional Care

I am encouraged by this new definition and hope our community of recovering people and the professionals who work with them will seize the opportunity to reduce or eliminate the stigma of addiction by supporting this definition.

Written by: Wendell Montney

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