Addiction Experts Push for More Medical Approaches to Treatment

Addiction experts are advocating for a more medical approach to addiction treatment, instead of relying on 12-step programs, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the largest professional society of doctors dedicated to treating and preventing addiction, released a new definition of addiction, calling it a chronic brain disorder, not just a behavior problem.

Last summer, the first group of medical residents started training in 10 newly accredited addiction medicine residencies around the country. In addition, more drugs to treat addiction are being studied, the article notes.

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, recently said in a speech that addiction “is not a moral failing on the part of the individual. It’s a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated.”

Only about one in 10 people who need treatment for addiction to drugs or alcohol receive it, according to a report released recently. Many who do receive treatment do not receive evidence-based care, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The report noted that sold evidence is lacking on the effectiveness of 12-step programs.

“Drug abuse treatment developed outside mainstream medicine,” said Dr. Walter Ling, an addiction specialist at UCLA, told the newspaper. “We’re still suffering from that.”

Scientific research shows that addiction is a medical problem that affects the brain, according to the article. National Institute on Drug Abuse Chief Dr. Nora Volkow says new medicines to treat addiction will encourage doctors to treat their patients’ substance abuse problems, treating it as they would other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure. “You are killing two birds with one stone — giving tools to improve outcomes for the patient and giving tools to the physician, increasing the likelihood they will incorporate substance abuse disorders into their practice,” she said.

9 Responses to Addiction Experts Push for More Medical Approaches to Treatment

  1. Michael W. Shore, M.D. | September 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    The optimal approach is to address addiction as a biopsychosocial disorder. As such, the most effective treatment throughout the recovery process is a combination of medication when appropriate with psychosocial approaches, such as counselling and 12 step meetings!!

  2. Jim Sharp | September 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Ditto to Dr. Shore. Because addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder, one should no more rely on medication alone than on a 12-step program alone. What is needed is a comprehensive treatment model that addresses the whole person and his/her environment in a person-centered manner.

    • Kate Cusano | September 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

      I wholeheartedly agree with the two gentlemen above — this is NOT JUST a medical issue — it involves the whole person — and needs to be treated as such. As a recovering person myself, I got sober when there was no medication therapy and I have been successful in recovery for many years. I went to thousands of AA meetings plus Al Anon and psychotherapy and have used Holistic Methods as well. I am not alone in this approach as I have many friends who have also been successful with the 12-step approach. There have been many studies done on the effectiveness of 12-step approaches so that statement about lacking effectiveness is not accurate. I do agree that “one size does NOT fit all” when it comes to treatment for addiction, but to rule out 12-step as the above article seems to imply would be ludicrous and detrimental to so many people. I especially take exception to the statement that ““Drug abuse treatment developed outside mainstream medicine,” “We’re still suffering from that.” REALLY???? Many diseases have been treated in many ways throughout the years — remember blood-letting and leeches? (Which are now popular again in some arenas!) So to say we are still suffering from the “old” approaches is disrespectful to so many! As new approaches are developed, we add them to the arsenal, but I have never met a recovering person who got sober from taking a pill as the sole method of treatment — so let us all work together to develop the best treatment approaches possible but please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

  3. Howard Josepher | September 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Drug abuse treatment developed outside mainstream medicine because our medical profession was bereft of effective ideas in treating drug or alcohol addiction. Similar to early responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, our nation’s very first treatments or helping modalities came from the grass-roots, the communities most affected by these diseases. If that had not happened, if we would have had to wait for mainstream medicine, many more lives would have been wasted or perished and that indeed would be very sad.

    • Carlos | October 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

      We’ve had a lot more breakthroughs with HIV/AIDS that we have had of 30 years of addiction treatment industry. Not one of the treatment facilities I have been too in the last 20 years have ever offered naltrexone, suboxen, methadone or any of the building arsenal of medications that are becoming available. In fact, when we asked the facilities doctor whether he would prescribe Naltrexone to the alcoholic, his answer was “and then what?” like what difference does that make? Well, the difference is that perhaps some of us alcoholics would have stop drinking rather than having to go to life time meeting of listening to conjured and made up stories, sometimes charming and entertaining drunkalogs. I am sorry, but I rather be sailing the Caribbean or motorcycling Europe like the MDs and PhDs get to do on their vacations. Sometimes I feel betrayed. I see no evidence except a very small percentage out of a very large populations that the 12 Steps works at all.

  4. Joe Miller | September 24, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Absolutely, Dr. Shore & Mr. Sharp. It certainly beats incarceration or governmentally coerced treatment for the medically ill!

  5. Bill Crane | September 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Agree with the above comments for the most part. However, i am still not convinced it is a “chronic illness like diabetes…”. Unlike diabetes, I have looked, but have failed to see exactly how one’s physiology is solely responsible for the condition we call “addiction.” If these “medical experts” wore hats, I think they may be talking through them.

    • ksmit7 | October 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Addiction is a biopsychosocial AND spiritual condition. The recovering person must address how the substances are either providing meaning in life or covering up a lack of meaning/purpose in their life. These are spiritual issues.

  6. Carlos | October 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Boy you guys in this site do not like any post
    that expresses any different opinion. Seems to me that the drift is toward conformational bias of what everyone else says. Science makes more in-row by refuting than by confirmation of what is already claimed to be known.

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