Medical Model Of Addiction


The medical model of addiction takes the high ground in addiction models because it incorporates the most well established information from other models. In a sense, it is primarily a descriptive model and doesn’t lead to one particular method for intervention.

An excellent review and Power Point on the medical model of addiction can be found from the California Society for Addiction Medicine. The essential outline of the addiction process is:

  • * Genetic or biological predisposition. While not proven in all addictions, this covers the innate “addiction drive” and helps explain why similar behavior and circumstances leads to addiction in one person but not another.
  • * A specialized response to addictive chemicals. This addresses why taking a drug is pleasant for some and unnerving for others. Only those who enjoy the experience will progress toward addiction.
  • * Risk factors. Here the model adopts the context issue and includes things like social environment, drug availability, preexisting mood disorders, life issues.

  • * Practice. This involves trial and error by way of experimentation. “Learning” the drug.
  • * The switch between use and addiction. This is a nod to the changes in brain states that come with drug use – hyposensitization, hedonic dysregulation (inability to feel pleasure without high levels of the drug).

The broad nature of the medical model of addiction accepts each stage as a target for intervention and attack. Importantly, the medical model of addiction says that responsibility for the addiction rests with the addict, even though they may be genetically primed for addiction. It also allows that, because of real biological changes in the brain, full recovery may take years.

The advantages of the medical model of addiction are built into its general nature. Physicians and medical professionals will find room to apply their own judgment in each case, rather than having to follow a strict paradigm that doesn’t work for all types of addiction. The medical model of addiction also tends to disallow addictions that do not involve chemical substances (sex addiction, shopping addiction, others) and places those types into the category of psychological disease instead.

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