How Changes in the DSM are Redefining Addiction

by AdamS on July 22, 2012

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, is known in the medical community as the ultimate guide for psychologists and doctors to label and understand different mental health disorders. Each year, a group of medical practitioners and psychologists attend a conference to make amendments and changes to the DSM. This year, however, they caused quite a stir in the medical community when it was discovered that they were going to change the way that the medical community defines addiction and what methods they recommend to combat it. This includes practices dealing with detox programs and rehabilitation services. For example on whether or not marijuana detox is necessary as it is not considered a physically addictive substance.


While certainly a difficult task, the task panel that is assigned to write a new DSM is given very clear guidelines on what they are able to say and not say in regards to specific types of mental illnesses. After all, the subject of mental illness does not enjoy the kind of empirical data that biological disease specialists get to use when writing such guidelines. Instead, these psychological experts are forced to rely more on their own intuition and evolved understanding of how mental diseases work. Knowing this, it is difficult to understand exactly what brought upon the changes to the definition of addiction.  There are three main ways in which the definition of addiction has been changed in the new edition of the DSM.


Firstly, they have added new criteria that an individual must meet in order to be classified as having an addiction. The person must exhibit a “craving or a strong desire to use” a substance in order to be labeled addicted.  Next, in the new edition of the DSM, categories of addiction that had previously been separated by “abuse” and “dependence” are not combined to a more uniformed term called “substance use disorder”.  Lastly, and perhaps the most important new distinction, gambling has been added to the list of addictive disorders, further muddling the definition of what exactly constitutes addiction. This last amendment has many in the recovery community, specifically those who deal with drugs and alcohol, feeling discounted. Many of them believe that their afflictions are more physical in nature than gambling, and therefore need to be classified separately.

There are those in the recovery community, however, who feel that the new DSM will help them to be able to qualify for more government money to help battle their cause. With the passing of the new Affordable Care Act, this could prove to be true. Whether or not an individual agrees with the new terminology used in the DSM to define addiction, it should not be forgotten that any kind of addiction, be it gambling, drugs, alcohol, or sex, can be extremely detrimental to an individual’s life and well being. It is important that anyone who suffers from any type of addiction seek help at a reputable inpatient treatment facility as soon as they can to get help. Even for less physically addictive drugs like marijuana drug detox is still necessary. This can be crucial in the battle against dangerous detox symptoms while in detox programs. Only with the care of knowledgeable professionals in the recovery community will it be possible for an individual to begin to combat their addictions.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: