Addiction now defined as brain disorder, not behavior issue

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Alcoholics Anonymous has said for decades that alcoholism and addiction are permanent conditions and abstinence is the only solution. In perhaps clumsy language written in the 1930’s by a layman, A.A. said alcoholism is “an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind.” While this may not be scientific language, it has sufficed in helping millions of addicts and alcoholics get clean and sober. The American Society of Addiction Medicine now essentially agrees with that definition, saying addiction is a brain disorder.

I was alcoholic / addict from my first drink and drug. It never occurred to me to try to drink and use in moderation and once started, didn’t really have a choice. “Like a runaway train headed to the end of the line” as Joe Walsh puts it. There’s something about my brain that is different from you “normies” (which is what we in recovery call non-addicts.) So, a long time, I decided to not drink or use ever again one day at a time and things have been fine since then. Meth and Budweiser kicked my ass and I have no desire to do battle again.

Addiction, which includes alcoholism, is an ugly destructive thing. Addicts can destroy lives around them as well as their own. They are of course always completely responsible for their own behavior and actions. However, this new definition says addicts can “choose recovery” and it’s not a moral issue. Degenerate behavior is a result of addiction and rarely precedes it.

“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,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. “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.”

The new definition also describes addiction as a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes, such as emotional or psychiatric problems. And like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, addiction is recognized as a chronic disease; so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a person’s lifetime, the researchers say.

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