I came across a discussion via comments online today, in which the participants were becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive with each other, as some denigrated people suffering from drug addiction as “scumbags” who “deserve everything they get” and others tried in vain to explain that addiction is a chronic brain disease. The scientific evidence has progressively mounted in favour of the chronic disease explanation and studies using the latest brain imaging technology, together with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of molecular biology, has meant that the disease model has prevailed and solidified.
Social and governmental forces continue to be directed at opposing the disease model of addiction, in order to justify the continued labelling of addicts as criminals who require punishment for their bad behaviour and rotten choices. This allows the government to incarcerate addicts, rather than treat them as medically unwell citizens, deserving of medical treatment.
Countries like Portugal and Uruguay have ceased criminally prosecuting users because of the overwhelming scientific evidence that drug addiction is a public health problem and NOT a criminal justice problem. Let me spell it out: Countries like Australia, where harshly punitive criminal sanctions are preferred to drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, deliberately ignore the recommendations of their own expert advisors, insisting in terribly misguided fashion that any chage in approach to the War on Drugs, “sends the wrong message to youth”. This ignorant and irrational viewpoint continues to be trotted out by politicians unaware that they are seriously damaging our nation’s youth with their retrograde policies.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine, arguably the peak world body in the Addiction Medicine field, has released its updated definition of addiction:
“August 15, 2011 – The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has released a new definition of addiction highlighting that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.” The headline in their report was: “Addiction Is a Chronic Brain Disease, Not Just Bad Behaviors or Bad Choices”
“The new definition resulted from an intensive, four‐year process with more than 80 experts actively working on it, including top addiction authorities, addiction medicine clinicians and leading neuroscience researchers from across the country. The full governing board of ASAM and chapter presidents from many states took part, and there was extensive dialogue with research and policy colleagues in both the private and public sectors.”
“The new definition also describes addiction as a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes such as emotional or psychiatric problems. Addiction is also recognized as a chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a life‐time.”
“Research shows that the disease of addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward circuitry of the brain, leading to addictive behaviors that supplant healthy behaviors, while memories of previous experiences with food, sex, alcohol and other drugs trigger craving and renewal of addictive behaviors. Meanwhile, brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is also altered in this disease, resulting in the dysfunctional pursuit of rewards such as alcohol and other drugs. This area of the brain is still developing during teen‐age years, which may be why early exposure to alcohol and drugs is related to greater likelihood of addiction later in life.”
“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.”
Before the argument re how “bad” addicts are, please carefully read the science at the link above. Much better than all this hostility.