It's a Disease
Addiction is a chronic disease. So why don’t we treat it that way?
Why It Matters
Seven decades of neuroscience research shows decisively that addiction is a complex, progressive brain disease influenced by genetic and environmental factors.
But you wouldn’t know it from the way we treat and understand addiction today.
Treatment for this disease is nearly always outside mainstream health care. Much of today’s treatment approaches have scant scientific support and don’t work. And treatment is fundamentally disconnected from the chronic nature of addiction, almost always characterized by short, fragmented periods of acute care.
This disease remains deeply misunderstood, even within the health care field.
These fundamental misconceptions about what addiction is – and the people who suffer from it – have led to a total failure in today’s system of care.
As a result, we’re left with people cycling in and out of treatment, and nearly 90% of those suffering not getting any form of help in a given year.
So lives are lost, families broken, futures shattered. And the disease continues to take a devastating social, human and economic toll.
The debate is over. Addiction is recognized as a disease by all of the nation’s leading medical and health associations. It’s defined as a chronic disease, with characteristics similar to type II diabetes, heart disease and asthma. Addiction fundamentally changes the way a brain is structured and wired, disrupting its communications network and the systems that control thoughts, feelings and drives.
About 22 million Americans suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, yet only a small fraction get well and stay well. For those who manage to access treatment, they enter a system rife with inadequate care. The human toll is incomprehensible. The economic toll is roughly half a trillion dollars a year. And addiction remains at the root of our communities’ worst social and public safety problems.
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