The Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), seeks to literally rewrite the federal government’s language regarding addiction and recovery, ABC News reported Aug. 3.
The legislation calls for renaming the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the “National Institute on Diseases of Addiction,” and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as the “National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health.”
“Addiction is a neurobiological disease — not a lifestyle choice — and it’s about time we start treating it as such,” Biden said. “We must lead by example and change the names of our federal research institutes to accurately reflect this reality. By changing the way we talk about addiction, we change the way people think about addiction, both of which are critical steps in getting past the social stigma too often associated with the disease.”
The consensus in the research community is that addiction is a brain disease, but many people with addictive disorders continue to face stigma and discrimination. “We believe that language matters. We believe these seemingly small changes represent a large step in the right direction as we work together to chip away at the misconceptions — and discrimination — associated with addiction,” said Lewis Gallant, executive director of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.
David Gastfriend, vice president for medical affairs at Alkermes, added, “Eliminating the word ‘abuse’ takes away the notion that it’s willful misconduct. It’s inappropriate to term this ‘abuse.’ Ten percent of [the] population [are] unknowingly vulnerable to alcoholism when they drink. They can’t be held to be immoral for developing that illness.”
However, Sally Satel, a psychiatrist at the Oasis Clinic in Washington, D.C., said, “I feel uncomfortable with calling it a brain disease. It’s not a constructive public health message.
“I’ve never met a clinician who treats people like if they have a brain tumor. Not one treatment requires brain surgery,” Satel added. “But that language can imply to the public that it’s a hopeless situation, when, in fact, all treatments expect a person to take control of things themselves. All doctors expect people to martial their free will.”
Scott Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory University, said “brain-disease rhetoric” was “grossly oversimplified.”
“It boils down an incredibly complex problem, to not necessarily the most important explanation,” he said. “You can view a psychological problem on many levels. Low-level explanation refers to molecules in the brain. There are other levels including people’s personality traits and moods, people’s parents, environment. Higher level than this is community.
“Every level tells you something useful. Brain disease is only one level among many and not even the most helpful. Implying it’s the only level of explanation, that’s counterproductive.”