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What is addiction?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

* A BRAIN DISEASE: Most scientists now consider addiction a brain disease: a condition caused by persistent changes to brain structure and function. Using drugs repeatedly over time changes brain structure and function in fundamental and long lasting ways that can persist long after the individual stops using them. After a certain amount of a drug is consumed, and that amount is different for everyone, it is as if a switch in the brain is flipped from normal to addict.

* FAILURE OF WILL?: Many people erroneously still believe that drug addiction is a failure of will or of strength of character. Research contradicts that position. However, the recognition that addiction is a brain disease does not mean that the addict is a hapless victim. Addiction begins with the voluntary behavior of using drugs, and addicts must participate in and take some significant responsibility for their recovery. Thus, having this brain disease does not absolve the addict of responsibility for his or her behavior, but it does explain why an addict cannot simply stop using drugs by sheer force of will alone. It also dictates a much more sophisticated approach to dealing with the array of problems surrounding drug abuse and addiction in our society.

* ADDICTION DEFINED: Addiction is defined as uncontrollable, compulsive drug craving, seeking and use even in the face of negative health and social consequences. Very few people are able to return to occasional use after becoming addicted.

* ADDICTED AT DIFFERENT RATES: Some people can become addicted more easily and quickly than others. Estimates are that 50 to 70 percent of these differences in susceptibility to addiction are genetic.

SOURCE: Summary of the paper Addiction is a Brain Disease by Dr. Alan Leshner, from www.drugfree.org


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