America Releases new Definition of Addiction

After years of debate, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has updated their official definition of addiction. All forms of addiction are now considered to be a chronic disease. This new description will help remove some of the stigma associated with addictive behavior.

A new definition of addiction is a much welcomed change by many and something that has been fought for over many years. ASAM, The American Society of Addiction Medicine, with the assistance of more than 80 experts in the field and after over 4 years of debate and examination have released their official new definition of addiction.

The updated definition hi-lights addiction as a chronic disorder of the brain and dismisses the assertion that it is simply a behavioural problem created from the overindulgence of any one thing, be it drugs or activities. This is a massive change for those struggling with the stigmatism associated with addiction as it is the first time any organisation has taken the official position that addiction is not just related to serious substance abuse or misuse.

This new definition may help people to look beyond the outward manifestation of addiction behaviours which are often damaging and antisocial. Instead this description focuses on the illness that is behind the behaviour, the underlying disease that targets many different areas of an individual’s brain.

Past President of ASAM, Dr. Michael Miller, was one of the people who oversaw the change of definition and said,  "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. 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."

One of the most interesting updates to the new definition is that addiction is now classed as a primary disease this means that it is a disease in its own right and not something that manifests itself due to other conditions such as mental or emotional health issues. The classification that addiction is a chronic illness also re-enforces the fact that addiction should, just like any other illness, be managed, treated and monitored over an individual’s entire life.

There is no doubt that stereotypical ideas about addicts come from the problematic behaviours they display. Now there is hope that understanding and knowledge of the new definition will help remove some of these negative images. Past President Raju Hajela, of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the ASAM committee said, "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 behaviours are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause"

"Choice still plays an important role in getting help. While the neurobiology of choice may not be fully understood, a person with addiction must make choices for a healthier life in order to enter treatment and recovery. Because there is no pill which alone can cure addiction, choosing recovery over unhealthy behaviours is necessary"

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