a family disease

Guinevere Gets Sober has a great post unpacking some of her thoughts about the new ASAM definition of addiction and what it means for the common expression that addiction is “a family disease.”

When I woke around 6 this morning I started to wonder: if addiction is an illness inside the addict’s neurological system, then how can we “adult children of alcoholics” consider ourselves to be affected by addiction? I’ve heard people in Al-Anon meetings say, “I’m the same as the alcoholic—I just don’t drink.” (I can tell you: for my mother, that was true. She WAS a dry-drunk.)

This reminded me of something I’d read years ago that described 4 tasks of treatment and recovery:

  • Recovery from the other genetic, biochemical, social, psychological, or familial influences which initially contributed to the development and trajectory substance problems
  • Recovery from the adverse psychosocial consequences of the substance use
  • Recovery from the pharmacologic effects of the substances themselves
  • Recovery from an addictive culture

Note that family are likely to share at least some of the first and second, and possibly, the fourth.

The more I think about this new definition, the more I like it. It really captures the primary nature of the illness and acknowledges the secondary problems that can result from it. This has important implications for treatment and understanding the constellations of problems that people initiating recovery often experience.

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