“Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication,” says the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, like many diseases, it is also one for which there is no cure.
This does not mean, however, that there is no hope for better lives for substance abusers. Rather, we know more than ever now how to effectively manage the disease. Here is a closer look at the incurable nature of addiction, along with an overview of treatment options aimed at helping addicts get—and stay—drug-free.
Changing the Focus from “Cure”
Who would not want to cure a loved one suffering from a terrible, life-threatening disease? While this may be the most human instinct, it is also a misguided one. Why? Because once the brain becomes accustomed to large amounts of drugs and alcohol, it cannot be quickly rewired to “forget.” Rather, attempts to simply stop drinking or using drugs may lead to a vicious cycle of withdrawal and relapse.
Explains DrugAbuse.com: “The brain isn’t like a word processor. Patches cannot be installed through a convenient medium (although how cool would it be to be able to upload vital information directly to the brain?), and we cannot reboot. Instead, behaviors have to be learned.”
In fact, in adopting the view that addiction is something that can be “cured” with a quick fix or simple solution, you may be doing much more harm than good. You end up enabling the abuser while simultaneously missing out on encouraging him or her to pursue proven treatments that can successfully be leveraged to manage the disease.
Managing the Disease
The good news is that while addiction is not a curable disease, it is a treatable one. Says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): “Research in the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of evidence-based interventions that help people stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives.”
For starters, treatment medications serve a number of different purposes, including treating withdrawal, helping the brain adjust to the absence of drugs, keeping cravings at bay, calming the body systems, and interfering with triggers. However, medication alone is insufficient. Individually tailored behavior therapy, in combination with treatment medications, is now regarded as the best way to help people overcome their addictions.
As addiction is a medical, psychiatric, and social disease, targeted behavioral therapy is a necessary part of helping addicts learn how to modify their behaviors and attitudes, increase their life skills, and ultimately avoid cues that might otherwise trigger cravings, use, and misuse. Just as addiction impacts the whole person, so must behavioral therapy address the same thing. One-size-fits-all treatment programs that fail to address the unique set of circumstances that led to an individual’s addiction are not only destined to fail but likely to set an addict further down the path of addiction.
One last thing to keep in mind is that relapse does not mean treatment was a waste of time or did not work. As with many other chronic diseases, relapse is often part of the journey. Continues NIDA: “Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply embedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.”
In this sense, addiction recovery is best viewed as a process—one requiring the ongoing engagement of and commitment from addicts, as well as the people who love and care for them. Speaking of friends and family, they are also a vital part of the recovery process. Acknowledging and understanding addiction within the context of family interactions can help addicts and their loved ones alike understand both the phenomenon of addiction and the dynamics best suitable for recovery. This is why finding a treatment program that incorporates family therapy is also critical.
While in a perfect world a simple shot or pill would cure addiction, the reality is that the nature of addiction is multi-factored and complex, thereby mandating an equally multi-factored and complex approach to substance abuse treatment.
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To learn more about how Harris House has been helping people recover their lives from drug and alcohol addiction for more than 50 years, contact us today.