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Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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April 11, 2007

The End of Abuse - Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A bill is winding its way through Congress which seeks to remove the term "abuse" from the name of two NIH institutes. The goal is to attribute addiction as a disease and not as abuse. The two institutes would be renamed as follows:

1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) would be renamed National Institute on Disease of Addiction (NIDA)
2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism would be renamed National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health (NIADH)

Senator Joe Biden's bill (S1011) has a Findings section which is very helpful in reframing the perspective about addictions:

S1011: SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain's structure and manner in which it functions. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs. The disease of addiction affects both brain and behavior, and scientists have identified many of the biological and environmental factors that contribute to the development and progression of the disease.

(2) The pejorative term `abuse' used in connection with diseases of addiction has the adverse effect of increasing social stigma and personal shame, both of which are so often barriers to an individual's decision to seek treatment.

mediaheader1.jpg Senator Joe Biden's bill (S1011) was introduced on 3/28 with Kennedy and Enzi. It is a companion bill to Patrick Kennedy's (HR1348), which was introduced on March 3 with Rep. Sullivan (R-OK) as the co-sponsor. The name of S1011 is "Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007" and HR1348 is `NIDA and NIAAA Name Redesignation Act'.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: NIO


1. Barbara Carder on May 20, 2007 5:35 AM writes...

Want a better name? Try Canada's Center for Addiction and Mental Health:

This is a model we should look at.

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2. Barbara Carder on May 20, 2007 5:37 AM writes...

Want a better name? Try Canada's Center for Addiction and Mental Health:

This is a model we should look at.

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3. Jeff Tuttle on June 10, 2007 12:44 AM writes...

Kudos's to Joe Biden and Sen. Kennedy,
You guys got this one right!
Addiction is a disease that is now very treatable.
I like these name's the best:
National Institute on Disease of Addiction (NIDA)& National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health (NIADH).
Way to go guys!!!
Jeff Tuttle

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4. Chuck on October 25, 2007 4:27 PM writes...

Addiction is not a disease. It is a behavior. Tying a behavior to a gene to call it a disease is simply an oversimplification of human biology. What next... I'm sorry I didn't mean to kill him your honor. My genes made me do it.
We simply do not know enough about the field of genetics to conclude that genes control behavior. I think that in the end we will find out that our genes do not work in isolation and that they are not locked into a single outcome such as... this gene is the gene responsible for addiction. Perhaps I'm wrong but to lock addiction into a disease model and legalize this theory by congressional approval is equally wrong and irresponsible. No one has that right until science can further illucidate the interplay between genetics and nature.

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5. Mike on October 28, 2007 11:39 PM writes...

Chuck -

The medical field has been calling addiction - especially alcoholism - a disease since the 1960's.

Using your logic, heart "disease" is also just a behavior:

There was at once a "choice", for example, to not exercise and/or to not eat in a healthy way. These choices could result in a lifestyle, that, over time, had physiological consequences that result into a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition.

Addiction works the same way. By the time someone fits the diagnostic category for "addiction", they are long past the point of simple choice. It's like saying a person with heart disease should choose to eat less bacon and it'll repair their health. It's a "disease" because it has numerous variables interplaying against one another and is beyond the point of simply choosing another behavior to prevent or resolve the problem.

So, other than the concept of biological predisposition to addiction (as also exists for heart disease), the point here is not about genes at all. It's about calling addiction what it is so that it can be recognized and treated in an appropriate way.

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6. Terri on November 5, 2007 2:00 PM writes...

Disease is a condition which if not treated is chronic and deadly. Addiction fits into that category, it is time to catch up with reality and stop the denial. This is not a moral but a health issue. There but for the Grace of God goes Chuck...

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7. Sam on November 13, 2007 2:00 AM writes...

Another good article which looks at whether or not addiction is a disease:

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