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Docs: Expect 20 Million More Addicts in U.S. Next Year

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The United States will be home to millions of more addicts come May 2013.

Why this massive influx? Turns out, it’s all about how you define the word "addiction."

A major revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will change the way addiction is officially recognized in the health community.

This seemingly innocuous remolding of a single word will have significant ramifications for addicts, medical professionals, health insurers and, of course, taxpayers.

The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and commonly used by psychiatrists and other health experts in the United States and throughout the world. There have been four revisions of the manual since it was first commissioned in 1954; the last revision was in 1994.

Number of symptoms reduced

On top of expanding the meaning of the word "addiction," the authors are expected to reduce the minimum number of symptoms necessary for an addict to get diagnosed in the first place.

For instance, never before has the DSM included something like guidelines for gambling addiction. That will all change when the revisions are made.

Presuming the expected edits go through as expected, health professionals will soon diagnose behavioral addictions that previously wouldn’t have made the cut.

The modifications don’t end there.

Dependence vs Abuse

Under the current definition of addiction, alcohol and drug problems are described in two ways. First, "substance abuse" is a short-term, self-limiting problem.

The ideal example of this is heavy drinking in college. The second type of problem is "substance dependence," which is what we commonly call addiction and alcoholism.

Time magazine writer Maia Szalavitz says the new definition will "get rid of the confusing term 'dependence' and the stigmatizing term 'abuse.'" But in the process, Szalavitz says, "it will also tremendously elevate the number of people considered alcoholics. One Australian study suggested that using DSM-5 definitions will increase the number of people diagnosed with alcoholism by a stunning 60%."

The New York Times, meanwhile, says some 20 million people who were previously recognized as substance abusers may now be dubbed "addicts" with this new definition.

While the DSM had done its best to draw a line between problem drinkers and alternative, non-problem sorts of drinkers – the proposed changes will likely eradicate that line entirely. Now just about everyone who drinks on a regular basis would be dubbed an addict—albeit a mild one.

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