Before starting the long, difficult process of recovery, drug addicts, alcoholics and their families first need to understand the physiological, genetic and psychological processes involved in the development of an addiction. They also need to understand that addiction is a disease and not a lifestyle the addict deliberately chose to follow.


Psycho-education involves educating individuals or groups with in-depth information about addiction and mental illness. In addition to receiving psychoeducation from rehab counselors, addicts in a recovery program may also receive psychoeducation in the form of videos, booklets and interactive computer software.

Medical Model

Concepts supporting the medical model of addiction include:

  • Addiction is a disease of the brain involving neurotransmitter imbalances
  • Addiction is a biologically/genetically predisposed disease
  • Risk factors influencing the medical model of addiction involve availability of certain drugs, predominance of life stressors, pre-existing personality or mood disorders and social conditions
  • Neurotransmitters–especially serotonin and dopamine–play vital roles in the development of addiction.
  • Genetic studies involving addicts indicate that abnormalities affecting receptor genes for dopamine and insufficient serotonin levels in the brain may promote vulnerability to addiction

Under this model, the transformation from simply “using” drugs or alcohol to being addicted is illustrated by brain changes initiated by drug use. Hedonic dysregulation, or the inability to experience satisfaction or pleasure without maintaining high levels of an addictive substance in the body, contributes greatly to the progression from recreational use to chronic abuser.

Psychodynamic Model

This model integrates some Freudian concepts with more modern ideas about the human psyche that suggests
addicts are self-medicating in response to psychological problems and severe internal conflicts. Considered a
maladaptive coping strategy under psychodynamic model, addiction is seen as something that requires the resolution of internal conflicts through psychoanalysis, CBT or talk therapy.

Biopsychosocial Model

This model integrates both the medical and psycho-dynamic model of addiction but also includes the important of societal influences on the development of the disease.

The impact of sociocultural characteristics on addiction is emphasized with the BPS model, such as an addict’s socioeconomic status, ethnicity or whether they grew up in a rural or urban environment. Cultural norms, values and expected behaviors may have conflicted with the developing personality of an addict, creating stressors with which they could not manage in a healthy manner.

Genetics and Drug Alcohol Education

Adding to the complexity of the biopsychosocial model of addiction is the well-substantiated argument that humans are born with genes that can be turned “on” or “off” by environmental triggers. For example, geneticists have found that certain genes are inherent in alcoholics, making them more susceptible to suffering alcoholism than those who do not have the genes. However, it has also been theorized that if someone with “alcoholic” genes is minimally or never exposed to alcohol or to alcoholics, that person may never develop an alcohol addiction.

Education Improves Recovery Outcomes

The importance of psychoeducation for drug addicts or alcoholics in treatment cannot be understated. Rehab patients not only gain insight into their condition by being made aware of addiction theories but are also provided with the tools necessary to conquer their addiction and avoid relapsing while in recovery and beyond.

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About the author

Robert M. has been in recovery since 1988. He is a sponsor and loyal member of AA. He has been working in the drug and alcohol field for nearly 20 years. During that time, he has written industry blogs and articles for a variety of industry websites including Transitions, Malibu Horizons, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches and Lifeskills of Boca Raton.


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