Addiction has long been considered by some to be a sign of moral failing. Families and friends of individuals struggling with addiction have held — and many still do hold — the belief that once a person completes detox, gets a hold of their values, and develops a strong sense of what is right and wrong, they will be cured of addiction. What they fail to realize is that an individual battling addiction is really struggling with a lifelong, chronic brain disease that even the best treatments can’t cure .
Although the initial decision to take a drug or misuse a substance is voluntary for many individuals, addiction is a disease that affects the neurotransmitters within the reward systems of an individual’s brain. Once the systems are affected, they become dysfunctional. As a reflection of this, an individual’s behavior changes and the compulsive engagement of rewarding stimuli begins — even if this leads to adverse consequences.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain from things, impairment in behavioral control, craving or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.
A person will keep struggling with their addiction until they receive proper treatment to regain their health and begin the process of also healing their brain. It can take up to 14 months for the brain to fully function once again, but with a commitment to sobriety the brain can recover.
Overcoming the addiction
Although it may seem as though an individual battling addiction has the capability to simply stop drinking or using drugs if they are shown the negative consequences of their behavior, they can’t. Addiction is a very powerful disease that takes time and commitment to be treated through detoxification, therapeutic practices, and coping techniques that will strengthen them physically as well as mentally.
As a chronic illness, addiction requires lifelong management. It is important for families and friends of individuals in recovery to understand that. As these individuals in recovery continue to apply techniques that they cultivated in treatment to help them cope and heal, they won’t ever become cured of the disease but they will become healthier.