It has been a long-standing debate for decades. Do addicts have choice over their behaviors? People who have never experienced addiction in their life or with someone close to them can easily say that an addict has a choice but experts have come to conclusion that this is not the case.
After decades of research, the American Society of Addiction Medicine has changed the definition of addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not a behavior issue involving drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling. The new definition of addiction is not solely related to problematic substance abuse.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) just released the new definition of addiction after a 4 year process involving over 80 experts. The new definition of addiction describes it as a primary disease. This is very important because primary diseases are not the result of other causes, like psychiatric or emotional problems. Addiction is also recognized as a chronic disease just like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Chronic diseases need to be treated and monitored over a person’s lifetime.
"At its core, addiction isn't just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It's a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas," said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. "Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It's about underlying neurology, not outward actions."
"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. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause," said Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the ASAM committee on addiction's new definition.
Knowing that an addict has problems making correct choices and may have their common sense fly out the window a lot of the time does not mean they are completely out of control of what happens in their life. It needs to be made very clear that an addict has to choose to get help. If the addict continues to fight the idea of getting help or if the idea of rehabilitation is pushed on them and it wasn’t their decision, chances are the addict will not be treated correctly and will not retain any education or life-changing methods simply because they do not want to hear it.
"Because there is no pill which alone can cure addiction, choosing recovery over unhealthy behaviors is necessary," Hajela said.
It is also time for our society to stop judging addicts and we need to do what is necessary to kill any stigmas involved with this. For decades people have been afraid to be open about their recovery and are afraid of being judged or thought of as weak. With the new definition of addiction, it is time to move our society forward and help those who are addicted by lifting them up.