By Chris Adams

What is addiction? The health community and the nation have long struggled with that question.

For Dr. Stuart Gitlow, director of a training program for physicians and a former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine the evidence – and the answer – is clear.

People who have addictive diseases have a genetic predisposition, he said – that affects about 15 percent of the population. “Most people can go out and have a beer and not think anything of it,” Gitlow said. “But 15 percent of the public can’t.”

People with addictive diseases also generally have traumatic episodes in their background that make it difficult to reveal their emotions. And they need to be exposed to the drugs – which for some people is like a light being switched on. “Once I discovered that drug, then I’m off to the races,” he said.

He added: “We don’t turn anybody into addicts… You either have it or you don’t.”

In a National Press Foundation training session, Gitlow described the genetic and other factors underpinning addictive diseases, as well as the types of treatment programs that are effective in helping people stay off drugs once they stop. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has a detailed definition of addiction, as well as a page of resources on effective treatment options.