When you think about a drug addict, do you think of words like courageous, resilient, and honest? These are not words that are typically used to describe someone who has struggled with addiction. Yet, recovered addicts are this and much more. The myths about addiction and the pervasive stereotypes of drug addicts hurt not only the affected individual but also their family and friends and make it harder for people to get well. One recurring question that keeps popping up is about addiction cure. In this article, we try to answer the question of whether addiction cure is a myth.
Is there a cure for addiction?
Can a condition like high blood pressure be cured? No, but it can be successfully managed with the proper treatment. The treatment needs to be lifelong. And there can be relapses. For example, if a person with hypertension stops taking their medication or starts eating a high-salt diet, their blood pressure numbers might climb back up. To keep their blood pressure under control, they’ll have to commit to eating a low-salt diet and taking their blood pressure pills. Without treatment, the disease of hypertension could lead to a host of health complications and even death.
Addiction is no different. It is a disease that can be treated. But it takes a lifelong commitment to stay clean. An addiction cure is a myth. Just like cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, addiction can be managed with the proper treatment. But no miracle drug is a foolproof addiction cure. And no treatment can guarantee a recovered addict will never relapse.
Polysubstance abuse is a growing problem
At one time, addiction experts believed that people had one drug of choice and stuck with it. Over time, polysubstance abuse (the concurrent use of three or more different classes of drugs) has become more common. For example, some addicts combine cocaine and heroin, a practice called speed-balling, to create an intense high. Others use additional drugs to counteract the undesirable effects of the primary substance of abuse (for instance, some people use alcohol to counteract the comedown from stimulants).
The increasing prevalence of polysubstance abuse underlines the fact that addiction cure is a myth. The multiple drug interactions that occur in polysubstance abusers are difficult to treat, let alone cure. However, polysubstance abuse can be successfully treated and addicts can achieve long-term abstinence.
Addiction treatment is effective
Studies show that 70 percent of alcoholics who engage in addiction treatment for six months or more can achieve abstinence. Similarly, drug abuse treatment has a 50 to 60 percent success rate for lifelong sobriety. These numbers are better than many chronic diseases that require lifelong management. Yet, there’s an expectation that addiction treatment should be “one and done”.
There’s no cure for addiction but this does not mean that it’s the end of the road for an individual struggling with substance abuse. Addicted persons do not have to die from their disease, i.e., addiction. They can live long, healthy, fulfilling lives. Experts agree that despite there being no addiction cure, the disease can be effectively reversed through medications, therapies, and support programs.
Addiction recovery is a lifelong process
Recovery from drug addiction does not happen overnight. It’s a long process that frequently involves setbacks. The fallout of believing in an addiction cure is that a relapse is seen as the end. In other words, people have a misconception that because the treatment didn’t work once, there’s no point in trying to get help again. This can be dangerous and can lead to severe health complications and death from overdose. The truth is that setbacks are common during drug abuse recovery. A relapse is a sign that the person needs adjustments in treatment or a different treatment approach.
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Addiction treatment: The sooner, the better…
Another myth related to addiction cure is that addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can start the process of recovery. In truth, recovery can begin at any point in the addict’s substance abuse history. The sooner, the better, because the longer substance abuse continues, the harder it becomes to kick the habit. Sometimes, treatment is not voluntary and an addict needs to be pushed into getting help by their family, employer, or the legal system.
Relapse is not a failure
When a person with a chronic, progressive disease like diabetes relapses and has a recurrence of symptoms despite aggressive treatments, doctors prescribe more treatments or different treatments. Yet, if an addicted person relapses, society often blames them for a lack of willpower. The underlying reason is that people mistakenly believe there’s an addiction cure. So, when a person relapses, he or she is held responsible and called a failure.
A relapse of addiction is no different than a relapse of cancer. It’s not the affected individual’s fault. It just means the addiction treatment needs to be adjusted or the person needs to try different strategies to get back on track.
Recovery can improve resilience
There’s a widespread belief that a previous substance use disorder increases the risk of developing a future drug addiction. But the opposite can also be true. Studies have shown that people who have recovered from substance abuse have less than half the risk of developing a new addiction.
The skills, motivation, and coping strategies learned during recovery can protect them from developing a new substance use disorder. There is no addiction cure but recovered addicts have a “recovery toolbox” they can rely on to navigate life’s challenges. For example, recovered addicts know when to ask for help, such as in stressful situations that can trigger drinking or drug use.
Getting addiction help
Even though addiction cure is a myth, addiction treatment has far-reaching benefits. The important thing to remember is that treatment for substance use disorders is not a one-shot deal. Drug addiction is a chronic disease and most people require long-term treatment, and in many instances, repeat treatments, to stay sober. Thinking of a stint at drug rehab as an addiction cure is harmful because it prevents addicts from getting the additional help they may need.