Why addiction is considered a chronic brain disease

According to a group of professionals in addiction medicine, addiction is a chronic brain disease that is more related to the nervous system of the brain than the external manifestations of behavioral problems and wrong choices.

In April 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) released a new definition of addiction, which for the first time expanded addiction to include behaviors other than problematic drug abuse. A team of 80 addiction experts worked for four years, came up with a new definition of addiction, and concluded that addiction is related to the underlying nervous system of the brain, rather than external behavior.

Addiction changes your brain’s reward system

Addiction can affect your brain’s rewards, motivation, memory and related circuits, so that your motivation is changed, so that your addictive behavior replaces healthy self-care behavior.

The brain’s reward system is also changed in such a way that memories of previous rewards—whether it’s food, sex, or drugs—can trigger biological and behavioral responses to participate in addictive behaviors again, despite negative consequences, sometimes even You no longer find fun in activities.

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Pulse control has also been changed

Addiction also affects the frontal cortex of your brain, which changes your impulse control and judgment. This can lead to a “morbid pursuit of rewards,” ASAM says, when the addict returns to the addictive behavior to “feel normal.”

The frontal cortex is involved in suppressing impulse and delaying gratification.

Because this area of ​​the brain will continue to develop in adulthood, ASAM experts believe that this is why early exposure to substances is related to later addiction.

Characteristics of addiction

According to ASAM’s definition, the characteristics of addiction are:

  • Inability to stop drinking continuously
  • Impaired behavior control
  • Craving or increasing “hunger” for drugs or beneficial experiences
  • Reduced awareness of your behavior and interpersonal issues
  • Dysfunctional emotional response

Other characteristics of addictive behavior

These conditions are also common in addiction:

  • Craving and addictive behaviors are triggered by external cues
  • Even with long-term abstinence, there is a risk of relapse
  • In spite of increasing problems, it still resists change

Impaired control and judgment

ASAM stated that due to impaired control, the behavioral manifestations and complications of addiction may include:

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  • Engage in behaviors that are more addictive than you expected
  • Increased time to work or school
  • Despite physical or psychological consequences, continue to use substances
  • Narrow your addictive behavior; for example, you only drink a certain type of alcohol from one brand
  • Despite admitting that there is a problem, there is still a lack of preparation for seeking help

Addiction can cause cognitive changes

Cognitive changes in addiction may include:

  • Focus on the substance or addictive behavior
  • Changing the understanding of the pros and cons of addictive behaviors
  • Mistakenly believe that your problem is not a predictable consequence of addiction

Addiction can cause mood changes

ASAM believes that emotional changes in addiction may include:

  • Increased anxiety, irritability, and emotional distress
  • Situations that seem to be more stressful than they actually are
  • Difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings

Reasons for the new definition of addiction

In the past, the diagnosis of addiction focused on the external manifestations of a person’s behavior, which can be observed and confirmed through standardized questionnaires. Rather, the new definition of addiction focuses on what is happening in your heart and brain.

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The experts at ASAM hope that their new definition can better understand the disease process. They say that the disease process is a biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestation. Addiction can manifest itself in many behaviors other than drug abuse.

Impact on treatment

Traditionally, addicts seek and receive treatment for specific substances or behaviors. This sometimes leads people to replace one addiction with another—ASAM calls it “pathological reward pursuits”—because the underlying cause is not treated.

ASAM recommends that comprehensive addiction treatment should focus on all active and potentially addictive substances and behaviors. ASAM is careful to point out that the fact that addiction is a major chronic brain disease does not exempt addicts from being responsible for their actions.

ASAM says that just as people with heart disease or diabetes must take personal responsibility to control their disease, if you are addicted, you must also take the necessary measures to minimize the chance of relapse.