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Disease Model of Addiction

Understanding addiction as a family disease implies that entire family should pursue treatment. Understanding the disease model is crucial to reduce blame toward the clients and feelings of guilt experienced by family members. There are five theories included under the disease model:

1) Genetics:

  • Individuals who suffer from addiction tend to have children who also suffer from addiction at much higher rates (25% higher on average) than children of non-addict parents.
  • Between 48 and 58 percent of a person’s propensity to addiction was attributed to genetic factors (American Journal of Psychiatry, 1999).

2) Reward

  • Alcohol and other drugs such as cocaine, stimulants, and heroin increase dopamine output (or sensation)
  • The drugs or alcohol that once “stimulated” dopamine production or sensation are now “required” to produce pleasure and happiness because the brain can’t do it on its own any more: need to “feel normal”.
  • Over time, drugs replace the normal flow of dopamine and without them, the abuser loses motivation, feels sad or depressed, and is unable to function normally, both physically and mentally.

3) Memory

  • Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory — two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.
  • Dopamine interacts with glutamate to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning: liking something+wanting it.

4) Stress:

  • Acute & chronic stressors that are unresolved (i.e. traumatic experiences).

5) Choice

  • Cravings impair decision making abilities
  • Choice not to use is impaired.
  • Brain goes through structural changes that impair decision making skills.

Ipek Aykol, LMFT#97315

Shumway, S., Schonian, S., Bradshaw, S., & Hayes, N. (2017). A REVISED MULTIFAMILY GROUP CURRICULUM. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 12(4), 260-283.