The American Society of Addiction Medicine said that addiction is a chronic brain disorder like any other chronic brain disease like obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder.
Neurological abnormalities like disruptions in neurotransmission and the reward system drive addiction, the group said in a statement.
"At its core, addiction isn't just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem," ASAM past president Michael Miller, MD, said in a release. "It's a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas," he added.
The statement also said that addiction is not enabled by another primary disease and is in fact the primary disease. The illness "hijacks" the brain's reward system and murders impulse control, the statement also said.
Genetic factors are responsible for half of the likelihood that a patient will become an addict.
"Many chronic diseases require behavioral choices, such as people with heart disease choosing to eat healthier or begin exercising, in addition to medical or surgical interventions," Miller said in the release. "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," he added.
Treatment should include psychosocial rehabilitation, the statement said.
Focus and insight into neurological underpinning of behavioral disorders such as addiction has been accelerating in the past years due to huge advances in brain imaging and neuroscience, authors wrote.
The ASAM policy statement was based on a four-year process involving more than 80 experts and "extensive dialogue" with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.