ASAM Defines Addiction as a Brain Disease

On Monday, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) announced its official “long definition” of addiction.

This new definition is notable because addiction is now defined as a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral issue. In fact, the new definition doesn’t have anything to do with the substance being used or the frequency with which it is used.

It all comes down to how the brain reacts to “rewarding substances or rewarding behaviors.” It is about what goes on in the circuitry of the brain of an addicted person more than the drugs themselves or a person’s behaviors.

This new definition comes after years of debate in the addiction field and took over four years with more than 80 experts working on it.

By publicly recognizing addiction as a chronic disorder that is not caused by emotional or psychiatric problems, it should then be recognized and treated like other chronic disorders such as diabetes.

The problem, of course, is that many believe that addiction, and the anti-social behaviors that often come with it, is a choice. That people choose to drink or drug excessively and simply don’t want to stop. However, as Dr. Raju Hajela, chair of the ASAM committee on the new definition, states, “the disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them. Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”

The stigma attached to having an addiction may take some time to lessen, but this new definition is certainly a step in the right direction.

What do you think? Will this new definition have an impact on reducing stigma and/or gaining support for treatment?

Read ASAM’s new long definition of addiction