There’s nothing chronic about this “chronic brain disease.”

The experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) are very clear: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease.” (Here’s the NIDA party line in a bit more detail.) As you can see, addiction is viewed as a chronic disease much like cardiovascular disease or diabetes. And they should know, right? After all the National Institutes of Health(the parent organization) funds 90% of addiction research around the world. They’d better know what they’re talking about.

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marc-david-lewisMarc David Lewis, PhD (born 1951) is a developmental neuroscientist known for dynamic systems approaches to understanding the development of emotions and personality. He is currently a professor at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. Marc Lewis received his Ph.D. in applied psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto in 1989.
Editor:  Nadeem Pasha

But wait a minute. The brain is a very different organ than the heart or pancreas. You want your heart and your pancreas to change as little as possible as you grow up and age. Most organs are supposed to maintain their structure throughout life. But the brain is designed to change — rapidly, radically, with learning, with experience. If your brain changed as little as possible, you’d live the rest of your life in a coma.

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Self-perpetuating brain change (brought about through repeated experience) is called neuroplasticity. That’s the source of all learning. Brain change caused by learning is “natural” brain change. Now there are some forms of brain change that you want to avoid, like the accumulation of plaques and tangles that lead to cell death, causing Alzheimer’s Disease. That’s “unnatural” brain change (of course everything in nature is “natural,” but you know what I mean). So, is addiction a chronic brain disease like Alzheimer’s? Or are the brain changes seen in addiction simply a result of entrenched learning, caused by the repetition of a particular kind of experience (e.g., repeatedly pursuing drugs, booze, gambling, sex, or video games — to get your jollies)?

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