Redefining Addiction as a Disorder

Redefining Addiction as a Disorder

What do Rob Lowe, Nicole Richie and Demi Lovato have in common? They each have struggled with addiction(s) and are now in long-term recovery—providing inspiring examples of how sustained recovery is possible. That message, recovery can happen, is one of the main points in the 428-page, landmark report on addiction recently released by the Surgeon General.

Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health,” is the first report on addiction from a Surgeon General and it’s meant to change the conversation around this public health issue—much as the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking launched a public health attack on smoking, causing rates to progressively decline over the last 52 years. And it comes at an important time.

  • Seventy-eight people die every day in the U.S. from an opioid (heroin, OxyContin, etc.) overdose.
  • Over 66 million Americans (nearly a quarter of all adults and adolescents) report binge drinking in the past month.
  • Only one in five people who currently need treatment for opioid-use disorders is actually receiving it. Overall only 1 in 10 people struggling with any addiction receive treatment they require.

Addiction: A Treatable Chronic Brain Disease, Not a Moral Failing
The report stresses that winning the battle against addiction must start with an attitude change. Too many people consider addiction a moral failing, when in reality it’s a chronic disease of the brain.

We saw this disconnect when The Dr. Oz Show and Today Show conducted a survey of over 1,000 men this fall. About half said they have friends with addiction problems—and that people addicted to drugs had poor self-control. This was a vivid example of how, despite current scientific knowledge about treating addiction diseases, so many of you don’t yet accept that it is a medical condition.

If you know someone struggling with addiction, it’s important to tell them—and yourself—“It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s a disease like any other and it can be treated.”

What Goes on in the Brain of an Addict?
Chronic use of alcohol or drugs makes changes in various brain areas where neurons cluster (basal ganglia), reward perception is processed (extended amygdala), and problem solving, complex thoughts and emotions happen (prefrontal cortex). This alters brain systems influencing learning, stress-response, decision-making, self-control, and pleasure. That’s why addiction entices a person to continue using an addictive substance, despite its negative effects on health and wellbeing—and why relapse can happen long after discontinuing the use of the substance.

What You Can Do to Help
Keeping the next generation from facing the challenges of addiction is a great place to start! Kids who have good relationships with their parents, live in a safe environment and have honest conversations are less likely to use drugs.

Have Family Dinners: Research shows just sitting down regularly to a family dinner reduces the risk of childhood drug abuse by 50 percent. This is important, because 9 out of 10 people with substance abuse problems started using alcohol or drugs before the age of 18. For every year that the initiation of substance use is delayed, the risk of addiction is decreased. (Kids who use alcohol before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder later in life than those who have their first drink at age 21 or older.)

Use This Guide: To help you make sure your children feel safe talking with you about alcohol and drugs, the Dr. Oz Show worked with the government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to create a guide, based on the findings of the Surgeon General’s report, called “Facing Addiction Over Dinner”. It takes the leading science on what causes addiction and how to prevent and treat it and puts it into a format that can help you turn this knowledge into action in your own dining room.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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