Understanding Addiction


Drugs Abuse Facts: What is Addiction?

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. It is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships and a dysfunctional emotional response”.

Addiction affects the areas of the brain that are responsible for survival including those associated with decision making, risk and reward assessment, impulse control, and memory. In some instances, addiction is coupled with underlying, psychological issues including depression, ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, etc. This is referred to as a dual diagnosis and must be taken into consideration in the treatment plan. It is also why it is best to be in a program supervised by doctors who are Board Certified in Addiction Medicine. They can prescribe needed medication for these other symptoms.


  • Is influenced by genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental risks.
  • Is a complex brain disease that has periods of relapse and remission.
  • Often begins in adolescence with the early use of controlled substances.
  • Has identifiable signs and symptoms with a need for continuing care following treatment.
  • Limits the production of dopamine which provides the sense of pleasure in the brain

As the brain’s ability to produce dopamine is suppressed, it takes more and more drugs or alcohol to produce the same pleasurable sensation- this is what causes addiction!

Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse

Addiction is NOT a moral choice.

It is a primary, chronic disease of the brain characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, the loss of behavioral control, and the continued use in the face of adverse consequences. It is oftentimes misunderstood and misdiagnosed, making it a leading cause of further damage to the brain, liver, heart and lungs.

The most recent study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia states an estimated 40 million Americans ages 12 and older have addiction. The number of people with addiction “is more than the number of people with heart disease (27 million), diabetes (26 million), or cancer (19 million)”[1]. Unfortunately, only 10 percent actually receive treatment for the disease.

Source: J Neurosci 21:9414 – 9418, 2001
The left brain is a normal brain with red indicating dopamine, the middle brain shows that dopamine has been severely reduced. The right hand brain shows what the addicted middle brain looks like after 8 months sobriety!

The most effective approach in treating addiction is centered on recognizing addiction as a chronic disease that requires the following comprehensive treatment model including:

  • Comprehensive assessment with a trained, clinical and medical professional
  • Stabilization through cessation of substance use and medically-supervised withdrawal when required
  • Disease management involving pharmaceutical and/or psychosocial therapies
  • Access to support (transitional living, educational, and employment) services and participation in mutual support groups (AA/NA/GA)

With medically-directed treatment, recovery is possible.

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