What does it mean when we call addiction a brain disorder?

The term recognizes that addiction is a chronic but treatable medical condition that involves changes in the circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control. The reality is that substance use changes the brain and creates lasting deficiencies in key regions and functions. These changes are what constitute the “brain disorder” that makes drugs and alcohol so painfully difficult to eliminate. However, factors that seem far removed from the activity of brain circuits, such as policies, the availability and cost of substances, as well as socio-economic factors, are also critically important determinants of substance use.

Much of the criticism aimed at conceptualizing addiction as a brain disease focuses on his original statement that addiction is a chronic and recurring condition. It is believed that these changes may make people with addiction vulnerable to the physical and environmental cues associated with substance use, also known as triggers, which may increase their risk of relapse. Brain volume is correlated with the duration of abstinence from substance abuse in a region-specific and substance-specific manner. Some people think that addiction cannot be a disease because it is caused by an individual's choice to use substances.

Clinical Psychoneuroendocrinology and Neuropsychopharmacology Section, Translational Addiction Medicine Branch, Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Intramural Clinical and Biological Research Division of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Institutes Health, Baltimore and Bethesda, MD, USA UU. Meta-analysis of structural brain abnormalities associated with stimulant drug dependence and neuroimaging of the vulnerability and resilience of addictions. However, the boundary of addiction is intentionally blurred to reflect that the dividing line for defining addiction within the SUD category remains an open empirical question. Others argue that addiction is not a disease because some addicted people get better without treatment.

Among people at high risk, one subgroup will meet the SUD criteria and, among people who have an SUD, another subgroup would be considered to be addicted to the drug. Understanding how drug and alcohol addiction is a brain disorder is a big step forward in helping to end the stigma of this complex disease and encouraging people to choose a treatment. In short, the notion of addiction as a disease of choice and of addiction as a brain disease can be understood as two sides of the same coin. As a scientific construct, drug addiction can be defined as a state in which an individual shows an inability to self-regulate the consumption of a substance, although it does not have an operational definition.

In fact, interventions to reduce the use of hazardous or harmful substances in people who haven't developed an addiction are particularly attractive. Addiction, clinically known as substance use disorder, is a complex brain and body disease that involves the compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious social and health consequences.

Joanna Yanoff
Joanna Yanoff

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