Addiction is chronic brain disease, not just bad behaviour or bad choices

A new definition of addiction released by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has highlighted that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioural problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.

This the first time ASAM has taken an official position that addiction is not solely related to problematic substance use.

When people see compulsive and damaging behaviours in friends or family members—or public figures such as celebrities or politicians—they often focus only on the substance use or behaviours as the problem.

However, these outward behaviours are actually manifestations of an underlying disease that involves various areas of the brain, according to the new definition by ASAM, the nation’s largest professional society of physicians dedicated to treating and preventing addiction.

“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviours manifest in all these other areas,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition.

“Many behaviours 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,” he added.

The new definition also recognizes addiction as a chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a lifetime.

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