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Addiction as a Brain Disease: Why it Matters

May 19

Addiction is currently considered a mental disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, this opinion is contested by many addiction experts and researchers. They argue that addiction should be reclassified as a brain disease, because it shares many commonalities with other diseases such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and dementia. This article discusses the rationale for reclassifying addiction as a brain disease, and why it still matters.

A recent review of research by M. Heilig and J. MacKillop published in Nature discusses how some of the most common criticisms of a neurobiologically focused understanding of substance use disorders. In it the authors also state that this theory of addiction as a brain disease does not mean that a given phenotype will always result in a specific pattern of behavior nor does it require that remission and recovery in addicts and alcoholics share similarities. In conclusion, the authors argue that understanding addiction as a brain disease can lead to greater access to recovery resources as it could lead to reduced stigma around the condition. The abstract of the review says, 

risky substance use, substance use disorder, addiction

"The view that substance addiction is a brain disease, although widely accepted in the neuroscience community, has become subject to acerbic criticism in recent years. These criticisms state that the brain disease view is deterministic, fails to account for heterogeneity in remission and recovery, places too much emphasis on a compulsive dimension of addiction, and that a specific neural signature of addiction has not been identified. We acknowledge that some of these criticisms have merit, but assert that the foundational premise that addiction has a neurobiological basis is fundamentally sound. We also emphasize that denying that addiction is a brain disease is a harmful standpoint since it contributes to reducing access to healthcare and treatment, the consequences of which are catastrophic. Here, we therefore address these criticisms, and in doing so provide a contemporary update of the brain disease view of addiction. We provide arguments to support this view, discuss why apparently spontaneous remission does not negate it, and how seemingly compulsive behaviors can co-exist with the sensitivity to alternative reinforcement in addiction. Most importantly, we argue that the brain is the biological substrate from which both addiction and the capacity for behavior change arise, arguing for an intensified neuroscientific study of recovery. More broadly, we propose that these disagreements reveal the need for multidisciplinary research that integrates neuroscientific, behavioral, clinical, and sociocultural perspectives." 

Recovery from substance use disorder is possible with the right clinical interventions. For individuals who have become physically dependent on their drug of choice, often effective treatment can only be administered after the patient has been fully detoxed. Detox can be dangerous, however, when a patient is not under the care of medical professionals. At 1 Solution Detox in West Palm Beach, Florida, addictionologists and other medical experts oversee the safe and comfortably detoxification of patients from drugs including opiods, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other dependence-forming stubstances. You can learn more about addiction treatment and medical detoxification at