We once thought addictions were moral failings that took hold in weak people who could stop if they would only try hard enough. For years, this thinking influenced how we helped people with a substance abuse problem. We blamed them. We harassed them. And we got mad when they wouldn’t recover.
We know so much more now.
Imaging studies have shown us just what happens to brain cells when they’re exposed to addictive substances. Those studies show us clearly that addictions have nothing to do with will and everything to do with damage.
It’s time for our addiction treatment programs to change as well.
Addiction: A Formal Definition
During the past 10 years or so, we’ve seen before-and-after brain scans conducted on people with a longstanding drug habit. They’ve changed what we know about how brain cells respond and how behavior changes accordingly. And our formal definition of addiction has shifted in response.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an addiction is:
“… 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.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this paragraph, and this is the short definition.
Essentially, this definition points out that addictions are primarily diseases of brain cells. The damage to those cells leads to behaviors people want to change, but they cannot.
Addictions, Your Brain, and Your Behavior
What does it mean when the brain changes? And how can that influence what you do every day?
The American Psychiatric Associationexplains that brain cells exposed to drugs have changes in areas that control:
Let’s think about that for a moment.
When your brain cells are altered, you are chemically unable to make good decisions about your life and your future. You struggle to pick up new habits. And you can’t quite remember what life was like without drugs.
The Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuseis right to call an addiction a “disease of free will.” Clearly, the abuse hijacks your ability to do anything other than continue the habit. You really have no other choice.
Why Does It Matter?
You may wonder why we’re so passionate about defining addiction appropriately and why we worry that the community at large doesn’t understand the distinction. Let’s make the issue plain.
Stigma is part of life for someone with an addiction. Judgment comes from without, when people smirk at you when they know you’re under the influence. But it comes from within as well, as your inner voice tells you that you’re worthless, hopeless, and at fault for all your problems.
If you feel judged, would you ever get the help you need? Or would you think that you’re not worth saving?
Stigma can — and often does — influence how addictions are treated in government. If we believe that people get addictions because they make poor choices, why should we fund research on recovery? We might think they don’t deserve it. We might also stop funding treatment programs, as we think people should heal on their own.
When we accept addiction as a disease, our entire worldview changes. Just as we wouldn’t blame people for getting diabetes, and we would never encourage them to skip out on the care they need, we will do the same for addiction.
The treatments we offer would be:
Delivered over a long period of time
We would offer wraparound care that helps people to both understand and control their addictions and manage the disorder for a lifetime.
At Y&Y Recovery, we focus on building the foundation for a sober life. We offer tools that can help you to map the path to your recovery, and what you learn with us will stay with you even after you walk out of our doors.
To learn more, call 888-877-7326
Definition of Addiction. (April 2011). American Society of Addiction Medicine.
What Is Addiction? (January 2017). American Psychiatric Association.
Addiction Is a Disease of Free Will. (June 2015). Addiction Educatio