Addiction is not only about willpower -- it is a chronic brain disease, says a new definition aimed at helping families and their doctors understand better the challenges of treating it.
"Addiction is about a lot more than people behaving badly," says Dr Michael M Miller of the American Society for Addiction Medicine.
That is true whether it involves drugs and alcohol or gambling or compulsive eating, the doctors' group said.
And like other chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, treating addiction and preventing relapse is a long-term endeavour, the specialists say. Addiction is described by its behavioural symptoms -- the highs, the cravings, and the things people will do to achieve one and avoid the other.
The new definition does not disagree with the standard guide for diagnosis based on those symptoms.
Two decades of neuroscience have uncovered how addiction hijacks parts of the brain, to explain what prompts those behaviours and why they can be so hard to overcome. The society's statement is not a new direction as much as part of an effort to translate those findings to the public.