Addiction has a long history of being treated as some sort of lack of willpower or character flaw. That anyone who had enough moral fortitude could simply conquer their dependency on these types of substances. That the only thing holding them back from sobriety was their own unwillingness to dedicate themselves to a clean life. But the way we see addiction is changing. Now we know that our ability to handle our addictions is not in our control as much as we may think. But even so, recovery is still possible for anyone suffering from this debilitating mental disorder.
Addiction: A Disease or a Choice?
Two of the most common misconceptions about substance abuse and addiction are that addiction is a choice and it’s also a moral failure. But we’re increasingly finding that this approach to addiction simply is not true. Environmental factors, genetic influences, and developmental factors all come into play when it comes to the development of substance use disorders – just like any other disease. What’s more, while the initial steps in trying an illicit substance may have been driven by choice, once the brain’s natural processes are altered (which might happen quicker than you realize), an addict has very little control over their own drug-seeking behaviors. And the science backs up this model too. Rather than treating addicts as individuals that are simply too lazy or weak-willed to change on their own, then, the reasonable approach would be to treat them as if they had any other disease – with evidence-based methods that are proven to work. Fortunately, addiction treatment is improving rapidly and is far superior to the methods of the past.
Treatment: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
While the bulk of addiction history was focused on the supposed “moral failure” of drug addicts, there were in fact a variety of physical treatments that were applied to individuals with physical substance dependencies. A lot of these therapies, however, were highly experimental in nature and were nowhere near as supported by scientific evidence as the therapies of today. Insulin-induced comas, aversion therapy, lobotomies, electroconvulsive therapies, and other highly invasive treatments were all used to treat substance use disorders as recently as the 1950s. What’s more, many different therapies that were successful when it came to an alcohol use disorder were simply transferred over to other substance dependency cases. A heroin addict, for example, may have received the exact same treatment as an alcoholic. We now know, of course, that not all use disorders should be treated the same way in order to increase the likelihood of successful recovery. There are drastically different withdrawals, various detoxification timelines, a wide array of complications, and many other factors that make it absolutely essential that each substance use disorder is treated using the methods that are most effective for them specifically. What’s more, we also have a much wider variety of medications that we can now use to ease the difficulty of the withdrawal process as well as reduce cravings for drugs in the long run. The addiction field has made some truly impressive strides in the past few decades and we’re finally starting to treat addiction as the disease it really is.
Addiction Treatment Today
Treating a substance use disorder is finally coming out of the dark ages. And though there are still a surprising number of treatment facilities that refuse to see substance addiction as the complex disease it really is, others are using evidence-based treatments to help addicts overcome their dependencies more easily and more permanently than ever before. Medication-assisted treatments (or MATs) for example, can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and eliminate cravings without the potential for abuse. These treatments are now becoming much more widely accepted in the addiction field. Not only do they decrease drug use, they can also reduce the risk of overdose deaths, criminal activity, and the transmission of infectious diseases as well. Many treatment centers also employ the use of supplemental therapies as well, including yoga, counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, artistic expression, and even equine therapy. What’s more, these programs can also help you finally get to the bottom of your physical and mental dependence by helping you explore what made you turn to drugs in the first place, whether it be depression, trauma, anxiety, or a variety of other sources. MATs and supplemental treatments represent the increasingly popular (and much more effective) comprehensive approach to addiction recovery and are changing the lives of recovering addicts all over the world.
The Reality of Relapse
Relapse is never okay. It’s never something that should be blindly accepted as part of the process. It’s not something that you feel like you can do without any repercussions. Every relapse puts you closer to falling back into the grips of the drug you’re trying to drop for good. Having said that, relapse is pretty common when it comes to addiction. In fact, 40 to 60% of drug users actually end up relapsing at some point in their lives. And while these numbers can be, well, quite sobering, the truth is that a number of other chronic diseases have similar and even worse rates of relapse. Diabetes, hypertension, and asthma all have relapse rates around these same numbers and also all have both physiological and behavioral components to the diseases. The difference, however, is that up until recently, a relapse with these diseases meant further treatment was needed while a relapse when it came to drug addiction was attributed to a complete lack of willpower. Now, however, we know that relapse (while it should be avoided) is not a sign of failure per se, but rather an indication that more treatment is required. The shift seems like an obvious one today but exemplifies how we are changing the way we look at addiction to both illegal and legal drugs for the better.
Taking the Steps Towards Recovery
Addiction can be an absolutely brutal disease (and it really is a disease). It can alienate you from the people you love the most, ruin your education, your career, and your goals, and it can significantly impact your health, both permanently and fatally. But just because you’re struggling with addiction now doesn’t mean there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel. People do recover from a substance use disorder. And once you start getting the help you need to win back your freedom from addiction, you’ll be on your way to a clean and sober life that you can finally call your own again. Need a bit of inspiration? Have a look at this success story about one man’s struggle to overcome addiction. It’ll give you the motivation you need to kick the habit for good.