According to recent studies, a major problem in getting help to people with an addiction is the stigma that surrounds such a disorder. The problem of addiction has been misunderstood and wrongly judged for decades, according to the newest research, and that is something that many people are working to change.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is for the first time stating that addiction is a disease that is not solely related to problematic substance abuse. They recently published a definition on their website to clarify, saying that addiction is a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” (1) The declaration comes after a four year consultation process with more than 80 experts. It is now the focus of groups like this to de-stigmatize addiction disorders, in order to make it easier for more people to get help for an addiction.
New Ways to Look at Addiction
Many people today, as in years past, consider a person with an addiction to be out of control and unable to be changed. They see an addiction as ruining someone’s life because the person allows it to, and ultimately they see addiction as being the result of a person behaving badly.
The ASAM study suggests differently. “Addiction is about a lot more than people behaving badly. At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. “It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.” (2)
Dr. Raju Hajela, past president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the committee of experts, said: “The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them. Simply put, addiction is not a choice.” (2)
Providing Help for Addiction
To call addiction a disease of the brain, as ASAM did this week, will no doubt lead to controversy. ASAM goes on to say that addiction is the result of many different causes, including emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and genetic factors. In order to prevent more people from becoming addicts, and to help those that are, it will be necessary to continue to study addiction and its treatment, and then work to educate the public on the findings.
According to NIDA, 23 million Americans are in need of treatment for substance abuse, but only 2 million actually get help. A big part of the reason for this is that people are embarrassed about what others will think about them if they knew they have an addiction. Many would rather suffer in silence or use excuses to cover the addiction up than admit there is a problem so they can get help. If we could reduce the stigma that goes with addiction, people would be more comfortable coming out and getting treatment for it.