“At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem.” This quote comes from Dr. Michael Miller, the past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) who recently oversaw the creation of a new, official definition for addiction now being included in the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. This definition, based on the research of 80 experts over the course of several years, offers new encouragement and direction for all those struggling with addictions of any type. According to ASAM, addiction can be defined as: Primary Chronic Progressive Relapsing Brain Disease. It is not a behavior problem. It is not a character flaw. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a disease.

Similar to being diagnosed with a heart failure or diabetes, people do not chose to suffer from addiction. ASAM’s new definition removes the stigma from addiction along with some of the judgment and shame. It is no longer something to be hidden in the dark, rather, it is something to be openly addressed and openly treated. Like a heart ailment or diabetes, there are choices people can take to help prevent the manifestation of the disease and clear steps people can take once the disease has already appeared. The key lies in recognizing these steps and in acting promptly. As Dr. Miller says, “We have to stop moralizing, blaming, controlling or smirking at the person with the disease of addiction, and start creating opportunities for individuals and families to get help and providing assistance in choosing proper treatment.”

Another interesting development involved in the creation of this new definition is the classification of addiction as a primary disease. Extensive research has been done to back this up. Functional MRI studies, genetic testing, and differences in endorphin levels in addicts prior to drug or alcohol use prove addiction is a brain disease that exists independent of outside sources. As Dr. Raju Hajela of ASAM explains: “Simply put, addiction is not a choice.”