The following definition of addiction is offered by The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM): “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
What we are dealing with is the biological relationship that humans have with chemicals in a certain context.
The disease of addiction
The disease of addiction is a motivational disturbance. It disturbs both the neurotransmission in the brain, as well as the interactions within its reward structures. This causes addictive behavior to take the place of healthy and caring behaviors.
It can get so bad, that the brain’s inherent survival instinct, even such basic instincts as hunger and thirst, are overtaken by the disease, causing the alcoholic or addict to prioritize using drugs and alcohol above everything else.
As the basic text of Narcotics Anonymous states: “We placed their [drug] use ahead of the welfare of our families, wives, husbands, and our children. We had to have drugs at all costs. We did many great harm, but most of all we harmed ourselves.”
Despite this scientific evidence, addiction is still widely seen as a moral failing. The view still exists that the addict of alcoholic is just lacking willpower or is too weak to stop using or drinking. This stigma, in many instances, prevents some people from seeking the treatment they so desperately need. Yet, people still do not understand what addition is.
The morality issue and stigma surrounding it prevent desperately needed open discussions about the topic.
Causal factors to addiction, to name but a few, may range from a genetic disposition and co-occurring psychiatric disorders to exposure to trauma and unhealthy social support. Putting the causes aside, the end result is nearly always the same: significant worsening of personal relationships, broken families, deteriorating health, and possible loss of employment and homes. Yet, the disease of addiction renders that addict and alcoholic unable to stop using or drinking.
The focus on addiction must be shifted away from the punishing mentality of social stigma, to that of prevention and treatment.
But what is a social stigma and why does it still prevail around addiction and alcoholism, despite all the scientific evidence that addiction is a brain disease?
A stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. It also means bad reputation, disgrace, dishonour, humiliation and shame. It is society’s way of placing judgment on a person or situation and more often than not, it is belief from long ago that has been proven wrong, but still continue to exist
In order to break the social stigma associated with the disease of addiction, the science behind it must be known and widely shared. This will make it easier for people to seek help when they need it.
Often, people with addiction are treated less favourably in society, resulting in the fact that those suffering from addiction or alcoholism attempt to hide their sickness. They are afraid of losing their jobs and try to keep the benefits it provides. They attempt to save face with their families and society and to keep their families intact.
Addiction is often triggered with trying to cope with a high level of stress, chronic pain, or depression. The social stigmas associated with addiction and alcoholism, only exacerbate these problems when one feels the need to hide the disease instead of seeking help to recover from it. This catch-22 situation invariable causes the addiction to escalate and not recede.
So, what can be done about it? If you know someone silently trying to overcome addiction, reach out a hand today. Contact us and find the help that everyone deserves.