The Definition of Addiction
“The Disease Model of Addiction” defines addiction as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease.” This phrase was coined and popularized by the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a leading neurologist in the field of addiction treatment, Alan I. Leshner.
In his extensive neurological studies on addiction, Leshner found that the brain of an addict or alcoholic fires differently than that of a normal person. The brain of an addict or alcoholic comes to prioritize its need for drugs and alcohol over all other survival instincts, including those for food, water, sex and shelter. This is why addicts and alcoholics often will go to any lengths to keep their addictions alive against all rational reasons to stop. This is also why addiction is so baffling to the family and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics who can’t make sense of why their loved one won’t “just quit.” Once an individual is addicted, brain scans show that the brain is essentially hijacked, rendering it next to impossible to stop without help.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.“
Alcoholics Anonymous echoes the Disease Model in its definition of addiction as a “three-fold illness” consisting of a physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady.
An article published by Science Direct likewise agrees: “Scientific advances over the past 20 years have shown that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that results from the prolonged effects of drugs on the brain. As with many other brain diseases, addiction has embedded behavioral and social-context aspects that are important parts of the disorder itself. Therefore, the most effective treatment approaches will include biological, behavioral, and social-context components. Recognizing addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use can impact society’s overall health and social policy strategies and help diminish the health and social costs associated with drug abuse and addiction.”
All definitions of addiction point to the truth that addiction must be treated holistically and on multiple levels — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.