Understanding Addiction

Looking for a definition of addiction.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) released an updated definition of addiction in mid-2011. The short definition was:

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. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours.

Addiction is characterised by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

Many factors – genetic, neurobiological, and social – affect addiction. The new ASAM definition also describes addiction as a primary disease (not merely the result of emotional or psychiatric problems) and a chronic disease needing treatment over a lifetime.

Click here for the full ASAM definition released in 2011.

Can addiction be treated?

Addiction can be treated. Recovery from addiction is best achieved through a combination of self management, mutual support, and professional care provided by trained professionals.

The vast majority of people who become dependent on addictive substances do substantially reduce or cease completely, quite often without any professional help whatsoever. That is often referred to as ‘natural recovery’.

Alcohol is by far the most common drug for which people seek help. Marijuana is next, followed by heroin and amphetamines.

Medicines can be used to assist people reduce or cease alcohol or other drug consumption. The most common form for opiate dependence treatment in Australia is methadone.

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