What Is Addiction/Alcoholism?

Addiction/alcoholism has a different definition to about anyone you ask. It is important to understand that the illness is not a behavior problem. It is not a moral failing on the part of the afflicted individual and it is not a question of will power. The ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) gives us this definition: Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individuals’ life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.

The AMA (American Medical Assoc.) describes alcoholism as a “primary, chronic disease with genetic…..factors….). The alcoholic has a different (abnormal) reaction to alcohol, and drugs. It produces in him a craving for more. This “phenomenon of craving” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. xxiv) is exclusive to the alcoholic/addict. “Normal” drinkers never experience this craving. After prolonged use, this need for the drug, or alcohol, becomes greater than his ability to resist it. The afflicted individual will go to tremendous lengths to satisfy this craving, even if it means compromising his values or the safety of himself and others. We do not believe this describes a person who still has a choice about using or drinking. The need for his drug of choice (DOC) has become about the most important thing in his life (at the time of craving). As one addict put it “I needed my next hit more than I needed my next breath of air!”

When preparing for an intervention and assessing the individuals’ substance use disorder, we usually see a biological connection between the addict/alcoholic and some historical family member or members. There is usually a strong genetic component involved. It is not the fault of any one in the family. Just as it is not the fault of the Identified patient. The Afflicted person may have been able to drink or use with moderation at some point in his history but somewhere crossed a line and will never be able to drink successfully again. The brain has become “rewired” and never goes back to how it was before the disease became problematic. To stop using/drinking at this point usually will require an intervention of some sort. That intervention may be something we control, like a structured family intervention, or it may be a tragedy that can never be amended.