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Be Smart. Be Well.® Explores the Science of Addiction and How You Can Help a Loved One Who May be an Addict

Apr. 24, 2013

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, which means it is a long-lasting condition that can be managed, but not cured. Just like asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs, addiction is a chronic brain disease. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol aren’t bad people. They are people with a disease who need treatment for addiction. In a series of new videos on Be Smart. Be Well.  experts explain how addiction affects the brain and how you can help a loved one who may be addicted. You’ll also meet recovering addicts who made the decision to get treatment.

“Addiction is a disease. It’s a brain condition that involves compulsive use of a substance,” says Wilson Compton, M.D., division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in the video Addiction: What Is It?  “We know it’s a brain disease because the brains are different in people who have addiction than in those who don’t.”

How a User Becomes an Addict

More than 20 million Americans have a drug or alcohol problem, according to NIDA. Most addicts start out as casual drug users or drinkers; but over time, repeated drug use and drinking can change how the brain works. Substance abuse actually “rewires” the brain so that addicts begin to crave the drug above all else, even though they know it’s bad for them.

“Two parts of the brain are involved, the limbic system that drives the behavior and the frontal lobes that should stop the behavior, but isn't working right,” explains Marvin Seppala, M.D., chief medical officer of Hazelden, in a video at besmartbewell.com/addiction 

How to Help a Drug User or Alcoholic

Karen, a recovering alcoholic featured in the video, Treat It Like a Disease , was able to get sober with the help of treatment and the support of her family. “I’m not a bad person,” she says. “I’m just somebody who had a disease and didn’t know how to handle it.”

The key to helping addicts like Karen, say the experts featured at BeSmartBeWell.com/addiction , is to remember that the addict’s brain is not functioning properly—it has been damaged by addiction—and he or she is not able to make rational decisions about the need for addiction treatment.

“The most important advice I can think of for a family that's going through addiction would be to remember that this is a disease,” Dr. Seppala says.

Learn More

BeSmartBeWell.com/addiction , provides practical information about the roots of addiction and how to help an alcoholic or drug addict. The website includes:

  • Interviews with leading health experts
  • Real-life stories of recovered addicts
  • A quiz to test how much you understand about addiction
  • Reputable resources and links for more information

At the site, visitors can also sign up for the bimonthly Spotlight Newsletter and biweekly News Alerts  for in-depth articles and breaking news on addiction and other important health topics.