Addiction Defined

Addiction is a brain disorder not just a behavior problem

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(RxWiki News) People can be addicted to anything - food, drugs, sex, gambling and more. It's a problem that has affected many, but it's not a behavioral problem like many believe.

There's more to addiction than just the decisions or choices addicts are making. There's an underlying problem - a disease in the brain, says Michael M. Miller, M.D., F.A.S.M., F.A.P.A., and immediate past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

"Addicts need to make the choice to get better before the disorder can go away."

People are quick to judge when they see someone spiraling out of control from addiction - they seem to focus on the substance use or behaviors, Dr. Miller says. The behaviors are just a reaction to the addiction - it's about the brain not the actions, he explains.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is a professional group consisting of nearly 3,000 physicians who are dedicated to increasing awareness and quality of addiction treatment, education , research and prevention.

After a grueling, four year process the ASAM takes a stand to inform everyone that addiction is a primary brain disorder that must be managed, treated and monitored over a life-time. Primary disease refers to one that is not a result of something else like emotional or psychiatric problems.

Members of the ASAM say that addiction affects the reward circuitry of the brain which causes the behavior and substance use. Memories of food, drugs, sex or gambling trigger urges and impulses causing the addict to become dysfunctional.

Since this is a brain disorder, children and teens who are exposed to drugs and alcohol at an early age disrupt normal brain formation causing them to be more likely to develop an addiction.

While the addicts still have the freedom and choice needed to stop, they also have a brain disorder that causes a distortion of thinking, Raju Hajela, M.D., M.P.H., past president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and board member of the ASAM, explains.

The individual must choose to live a healthier life just like any other chronic disease such as heart disease. People choose to start eating better and exercising - so an addict must choose to get help, Dr. Miller says.

Last Updated:
August 21, 2011