Drug addiction and alcoholism were believed, for many years, to be a matter of poor character, bad decision-making, and lack of willpower.
In fact, to this day, there is some dispute as to whether addiction is a disease or a behavioral problem. Most drug and alcohol treatment centers and addiction counselors see addiction as a disease. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) now defines addiction as “…a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Drug and alcohol addictions are chronic diseases.
An individual who is experiencing substance addiction behaves in a compulsive manner when it comes to seeking and using drugs and/or alcohol. Negative consequences always ensue, such as problems in the home and workplace, or even criminal/legal issues. Still, addiction makes it very difficult to stop using despite the consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.”
The disease model of addiction, often used to explain and illustrate why most medical associations (including the American Medical Association, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and the ASAM) view addiction as a disease, was developed around 1960. Viewing addiction as a disease opens the door for effective treatment. While there is no cure for addiction, it can be successfully treated, and people can go on to live positive, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
DrugFacts—Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved December, 2016.