Dr. Nora Volkow: What Does It Mean When We Call Addiction a Brain Disorder?

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The following blog is reprinted in part from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Informed Americans no longer view addiction as a moral failing, and more and more policymakers are recognizing that punishment is an ineffective and inappropriate tool for addressing a person’s drug problems.

Treatment is what is needed.

Fortunately, effective medications are available to help in the treatment of opioid use disorders. Medications cannot take the place of an individual’s willpower, but they aid addicted individuals in resisting the constant challenges to their resolve; they have been shown in study after study to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences.

They save lives.

Yet the medical model of addiction as a brain disorder or disease has its vocal critics. Some claim that viewing addiction this way minimizes its important social and environmental causes, as though saying addiction is a disorder of brain circuits means that social stresses like loneliness, poverty, violence, and other psychological and environmental factors do not play an important role. In fact, the dominant theoretical framework in addiction science today is the biopsychosocial framework, which recognizes the complex interactions between biology, behavior, and environment.

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