A Choice or a Brain Disease? Challenging Our Understanding of Addiction

National Addiction Awareness Week is November 14 – 20, 2011 and the health experts from Bellwood Health Services are challenging Canadians to rethink the root causes of addiction, and the perceptions that addiction is simply a behavioural problem.

A long-time taboo subject in North American society, addiction has typically been considered a bad lifestyle choice, attaching a stigma to those seen as “choosing” to abuse substances.  However, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has recently created a landmark new definition of addiction highlighting that addiction is a brain disease and not simply a behavioural problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.

At its core, addiction is a brain problem with underlying neurology. While many behaviours driven by addiction are real problems, it is not just a social, moral or criminal problem. The disease is about brains, not drugs.

Considering this finding and the fact that about 10 per cent of the population has a substance abuse problem, urgent action is needed to provide effective preventative and treatment options to Canadians struggling with addiction.

The fact of the matter is people are susceptible to developing an addiction in the same way that people are susceptible to developing other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Genetics is a significant risk factor as well as a person’s social environment. It is crucial to raise awareness of this new understanding of addiction in order to break the associated stigmas and affect change.

“The societal impact of addiction is staggering,” says Linda Bell, CEO of Bellwood Health Services and one of Canada’s leading experts in addiction. “We are shoveling up over $40 billion a year in lost productivity, healthcare costs and law enforcement.  Studies show that for every $1.00 invested in addiction treatment the return to society is over $5.00. The cost to treat addiction far outweighs the costs not to treat it properly.

Canada’s healthcare system is in crisis and we are at a crossroads. With all of the information available today, it is time for a broad discussion across the country to reexamine how we respond to people who are addicted.”

Addiction continues to be a widespread health and social problem, impacting the lives of millions of Canadians. It is the most serious unresolved public health problem we face today.

Here is a snapshot of some of the issues:

  • An estimated 11 per cent of Canadians have a substance use problem
  • The costs of substance abuse in Canada is estimated at $40 billion per year
  • Addictions are in the workplace: 76 per cent of people with substance addictions are employed
  • 3.4 per cent of adults in Ontario report moderate or severe gambling problems
  • Sex addiction has an estimated prevalence of 3 per cent – 6 per cent in the US adult population
  • Approximately 3 per cent of women will be affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime

 Bellwood spokespeople are available to discuss the new definition of addiction, and address the latest issues, trends and treatment options in the areas of all addictions.  They can also offer tips and advice on how to spot the warning signs that you or a loved one may be suffering from an addiction, and what you can do to help. Awareness and education are key in dealing with addictions and Bellwood is here to help.

About Bellwood Health Services

Bellwood is celebrating its 27th year of serving Canadians with quality addiction treatment. The late Dr. Gordon Bell and his daughter Linda Bell, opened the Bellwood doors in Toronto in 1984, and have been working with individuals and families who are experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, sex, gambling, eating disorders, and PTSD/ trauma and addiction. For more information on any of Bellwood’s treatment programs, visit www.bellwood.ca.

To book an interview with a Bellwood spokesperson please contact:

Monika Rola at Strategic Objectives
416-366-7735 x 237href="mrolaatstrategicobjectivesdotcom">

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