Addiction is a Family Disease

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as the following:

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as the following:

“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.”

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) defines addiction as the following:

“Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.”

I found a short video on their website that explains addiction:

I was not able to find a clear definition from SAMSHA’s website for addiction. I searched their site for information on the family disease – this page was all I could find on the topic:   I was able to find this link to a chapter from a SAMSHA publication that describes substance use treatment with family therapy –

I struggled to find a definition that describes addiction as a family disease – atleast in an “official” and “professional” capacity.

NCADD has this to say:  “Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.”  –

Al-Anon’s website ( has this quote:  “Al‑Anon members come to understand problem drinking as a family illness that affects everyone in the family.”

Nar-Anon ( does not go as far as Al-Anon when they describe the disease of addiction:  “We are a 12-step program designed to help relatives and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend.”  They acknowledge that living with the person diagnosed with the disease affects the people around them.

I briefly searched AA and NA websites and they don’t define addiction or alcoholism per se and if you search for “family” on their sites, there is no reference to the disease or resources for the family.

So where did the idea of the “family disease” come from if it is so difficult to find it?  I even searched that term on Amazon and no books came up on the first page.  Hmmm…do I see a book idea here?  What are your thoughts on the topic?




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