Every year, new findings are released in the field of addiction recovery. The latest research indicates that addiction is a chronic disease that requires ongoing maintenance. In the early stages of recovery, addiction treatment can be very beneficial in treating acute withdrawal as well as breaking the cycle of addictive behavior. After initial addiction treatment, it is wise to have a wellness maintenance plan that includes relapse prevention.1
Every case of addiction is unique. Some individuals have been through a trauma or struggle with a co-occurring mental health diagnosis, while others have not. In many cases, individuals may have inherited a genetic predisposition for addiction, but that genetic predisposition does not always lead to addictive behavior. In all cases, education about the causes, consequences, and symptoms of addiction can help prevent addiction from ever getting started. If substance use disorder has already become a problem, learning more about treatment methods can always help.2
Many people ask if addiction can be cured. The answer is complicated. Since addiction is a chronic disorder, most specialists agree that it can be treated and placed into remission…but not fully cured. Like diabetes treatment, simple, everyday management of a substance use disorder can lead to lasting wellness for life; however, in order for this to become a reality, ongoing attention to treatment and management must be a high priority.3
Once an Addict, Always an Addict: While This Is True, It Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
Anyone who has experienced addiction or cared about a person in the struggle of addiction has probably heard, “Why doesn’t that person just have some self-control and stop?” There are a myriad of misconceptions about addiction, and many people are still unsure of how addiction works. Frustration often leads to snap judgments and incorrect assumptions about addiction, including the misconception that if a person is “once an addict,” then he or she will “always be an addict.”
A closer look at research can provide a more level-headed understanding. After an individual participates in recovery treatment, there is a risk of relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDH) has labeled addiction as a chronic disease. As such, it is considered a brain disease that does relapse with a compulsion to return to substance use despite highly unpleasant consequences.
In fact, individuals who have made it through the first weeks and months of sobriety are at a higher risk of returning to addiction – tumbling from a single lapse into a complete relapse tailspin. Fortunately, after two years of recovery, the risk of relapse falls significantly. However, that does not mean that the person in recovery is completely cured. It is always possible to relapse following the existence of addiction.
Bottom line, addiction is a disease that leads to compulsions. Hopefully the individual in recovery will have a strong and honest support network and solid coping skills to help with these compulsions as they arise. It is possible to maintain remission from addiction with the right support, commitment, and circumstances. If a solid support system and plan are in place, relapses that may occur can be caught early and minimized.4
Recovery Must Be Individualized – Not “One Size Fits All”
Every recovery story is as unique as each individual involved. Addictions happen for a number of reasons, and recovery occurs in a number of ways. It is easy to get caught in the trap of believing that recovery should look a certain way. Addiction recovery can begin at any stage. A person does not need to hit “rock bottom” in order to begin treatment, and wellness can begin at any time that the addicted individual desires healthy change.
Recovery should be tailored to the causes behind the addiction; this means that each individual must look within to uncover the factors that may be feeding or reinforcing addictive behavior. These factors may include physical dependency, past trauma, anxiety or depressive disorders, other co-occurring mental health issues, lack of effective coping skills, or overall stress level. Counseling with a licensed mental health professional or addiction rehab treatment center can prove to be very helpful in revealing these addiction risk factors and complications in order to hasten recovery.5
People don’t just let go of bad habits. It’s human nature. As such, addictions must be replaced with either better habits or healthy coping skills.
Substance use disorders are often more about negative thinking, lack of support, coping skills or ways to avoid traumatic memories or deeply upsetting feelings than it is about addictive substances themselves. A good addiction recovery plan includes counselling, support groups and aftercare to help the person in recovery find and practice new coping skills. Again, in being human, times of deep stress or change may leave us with lowered coping skills.
A big part of addiction recovery is the ability to achieve emotional sobriety. Emotional sobriety includes the ability to feel emotions – even very difficult emotions – and be able to cope with those emotions and stressors as they occur. There is no perfect way to become “rock solid” emotionally, but emotional sobriety includes embracing coping strategies, putting a support system in place, learning how to manage strong emotions, and the ability to communicate with others in order to meet needs and fulfill hopes and dreams.3
A “Happy Ending” IS Indeed Possible
erless. Armed with a better understanding of addiction and co-occurring disorders, it is possible to place addiction in remission and enjoy a better, more fulfilling life.
There will be tough days. Every person in recovery has experienced the temptation to use again, or resorted to additive thinking during very tough times. The key to staying healthy is different for every person, but many people benefit from keeping supportive family and friends in place, sharing their story when possible, implementing recovery into everyday life, researching and learning more about addiction recovery, and maintaining a healthy body and mind.
It’s true, addiction recovery is a life-long process; however, it is a process that will improve the quality of life, attract friends who also desire better living, and may even lengthen the life of the recovering person. Both addicted and non-addicted individuals alike can benefit greatly from the advantages of seeking the best health possible.5
What do you think? Is it possible to “cure” an addiction? How does an addiction impact a person’s day-to-day quality of life?
1“Addiction Is a Chronic Disease”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://archives.drugabuse.gov/publications/drug-abuse-addiction-one-americas-most-challenging-public-health-problems/addiction-chronic-disease.
2 “Real Teens Ask: Is Addiction Hereditary?”, NIDA for Teens, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-addiction-hereditary, (February 18, 2011).
3 Sack, David, M.D., “Will There Ever Be a Cure for Addiction?”, Psychology Today, (July 18, 2012).
4 Louie, Sam, M.A., L.M.H.C., “Once an Addict, Always an Addict: What’s the Truth?”, Psychology Today, (February 5, 2016).
5 “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment, (December 2012).