Daily Archives: 19/02/2015

Defining Addiction

I read this on the Castle Craig blog and really liked it as it blends older beliefs from older recovery methods with some of the newer knowledge on the subject and is written by Dr Margaret McCann CEO and founder of Castle Craig Hospital, an alcohol and drug rehab clinic in Scotland.  It is how she defines addiction.

The view I have taken for many years is that addiction is a complex illness involving many factors.

These factors include:

  • the effects of the drug itself;
  • the response of the brain to the drug – with resultant neurochemical and biological changes after prolonged exposure;
  • the hereditary and genetic makeup of the individual – there is strong evidence that genetic factors predispose an individual to addiction and increase the person’s vulnerability;
  • psychological factors;
  • and socio-cultural factors. 

In order to simplify the message, I think of a triangle where the three points are the drug, the person (biology; psychology) and the environment (price; availability; peer influences; education; occupation).

In this way, according to a previous definition, addiction is a biopsychosocial disease. I think there is no doubt that it also has a spiritual dimension (dishonesty, selfishness, the moral and spiritual consequences of the lifestyle).

Understanding addiction as a disease is not a cop-out for taking responsibility for one’s recovery. In fact because it is a chronic progressive and potentially fatal condition it is all the more necessary that the individual take full responsibility.

Alcoholics Anonymous itself has always spoken of an illness but there is a greater understanding now of how the brain’s reward centre’s and neural circuits are hijacked by long exposure to significant drug levels.

So to summarise:

  • Addiction is a biopsychosocial disease.
  • “I think of a triangle where the three points are the drug, the person and the environment.”
  • Understanding addiction as a disease is not a cop-out for taking responsibility for one’s recovery.

For further reading on this subject I recommend the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s definition of addiction.