Addiction is not only a behavioural problem

Addiction linked to brain issuesIs addiction a social phenomenon, a behavioural problem or an illness? Recent research throws some light on this, however the bottom line is that whatever the cause of addiction is the effects of active addiction are never productive.

Redefinition of addiction as a chronic brain disease

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recently released a new definition of addiction that focuses on the chronic brain disorders underlying addiction in all its forms, rather than viewing addiction as a behavioural problem or a sign of weakness. This the first time the ASAM has officially supported the concept of addiction as a problem that goes beyond behaviour.The roots of addiction in the brain are well-researched and grow better understood every day as neuroscientists work to map out the processes inside the brain that lead to compulsive and damaging behaviours in the outside world.  More than 80 experts collaborated on this new definition, taking into account the huge leaps in neuroscience of the last 20 years. Many people’s impressions of addiction are based on media coverage of celebrities whose compulsive eating disorder, sex addiction, drug abuse or alcoholism lead them to seek addiction treatment in private rehab centres.  We do not read in the media about how these celebrities’ brains work!

However, these outward behaviours are actually manifestations of an underlying disease that involves various areas of the brain.  We have reward centres and natural feel-good chemicals in our brains, which encourage us to perform certain actions.  Imbalances can lead to addiction, in which we repeat those actions compulsively for ever-decreasing reward.  The behaviour is driven by a brain problem; it is a chronic illness that requires treatment and ongoing supervision for relapse prevention.

"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, a past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. This does not mean that addicts are powerless to help themselves; far from it!  They should not be viewed as unwilling or incapable of improving their behaviour, but as under the influence of their own brain chemistry, just like every other human and animal on the planet.  Private rehab communities can support addicts through addiction recovery treatment and related therapies such as depression treatment in a safe and caring environment.

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