American Society of Addiction MedicineOn August 15, 2011 The American Association of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) declared, in a press release, that addiction is a chronic brain disorder.

As many of the articles in this blog will attest, this is not news to the ‘addiction community’. Doctors, sociologists, scientists and those with addictions have known this to be the case for many years. Academia limps along, coming in last but not least, because the repercussions from this declaration will be many.

The ASAM defines the ABC’s of addiction as follows:

“Addiction is characterized by:
a. Inability to consistently Abstain;
b. Impairment in Behavioral control
c. Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences;
d. Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships; and
e. A dysfunctional Emotional response” (ASAM: 2011: 2).

Nowhere in this definition is there a limiting reference to alcohol and/or drugs. Simply put, this means that addiction does include, but is not limited to, alcohol and drugs. We can now see that addiction can and does include food.

The very idea that food is addictive, common knowledge to most of those who work in the field, now has academic legitimacy. Obesity can now be understood and treated with many of the same tools that drug and alcohol treatments use. Perhaps more importantly, the addict in this case, can understand that they aren’t just ‘fat and lazy’, they have a legitimate physical addiction, the locus of which is the brain and NOT some inherent weakness in their moral fibre.

There are genetic factors that predispose people to obesity. These, coupled with the environmental and cultural factors that lead to obesity, make food addiction difficult to treat. At least now, because of this definition, treatment can be formalized. With the weight of the ASAM behind this definition, it will now be possible to get funding for food addiction. Hopefully the funding will include the opening of treatment centres that specialize in food addiction. Individuals with food addiction should now be able to access different treatment modalities, tailoring a program to suit their individual needs.

The ASAM, then, has opened the floodgates to a deeper and broader understanding of addiction. Academia is now behind the idea that addiction is addiction is…..etc. This definition helps to explain why it is that a person who has given up cocaine abuse becomes addicted to alcohol. Or why a heroin addict, having ‘kicked’, gains a lot of weight and can’t stop eating sweets. Now treatment programs can address the dangers of becoming multi-addicted.

The ramifications of this definition then are many and varied. I would have to argue, however, that the most important of these will be to the food addict. Finally there is a legitimated explanation that does not include a component of self-deprecation. The diabetic does not loathe themselves because they are diabetic. Neither should the person who suffers from food addiction. Although it was late in coming, the ASAM has finally come through for the addict.

American Society of Addiction Medicine: “The Definition of Addiction Adopted: April 12, 2011 Revised”