In the mid-twentieth century, people were beginning to notice that being addicted to alcohol and drugs was no longer affecting just a minor subset of the population, but rather was growing and affecting people in higher and higher numbers. At the time, there was minimal research on addiction and substance abuse, which left people unsure of exactly what it was, how addiction developed, and how it should be treated. In fact, addiction was largely seen as a defect of character, weakness of will, and a sign of being a bad person. As a result, addiction was criminalized, which meant that individuals who committed crimes related to or resulting from dependency on alcohol and drugs were thrown in jail where they were forced to be abstinent.
We’ve come to have a much better and more thorough understanding of addiction as a result of decades of research. For instance, we’ve realized that punitive treatments—addicts receiving jail time as a means of forced sobriety—lead to high recidivism rates with most individuals ending up back in jail due to a drug-related crime within a couple years of fulfilling their initial sentence. It’s clear that punishing addicts doesn’t treat their condition, which leads to using a variety of psychotherapies and alternative treatmentsto help addicts recover from dependency in much the same way that treatments are used for any other disease.
Due to the consensus of addiction being a disease, many have wondered if it’s possible to be cured of addiction, of it can at least be put into remission. The disease model of addiction is the most widely accepted view of dependency and states that addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable relapsing disease of the brain. The words “chronic,” “progressive,” and “incurable” are important in understanding the nature of addiction as well as the ways in which addicts can manage their illness.
The Disease of Addiction is Chronic and Incurable
According to the Center for Managing Chronic Disease, a disease is defined as being chronic when it’s a long-lasting condition that can be controlled or managed, but which cannot be cured. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified chronic disease as being the leading cause of death and disability among those living in the United States with chronic illness implicated in as many as 1.7 million deaths per year, or roughly 70 percent of all deaths in the United States. What’s more, the World Health Organization (WHO) supports this data on a global scale, showing that chronic disease is a leading cause of death around the world, especially since there are still many undeveloped areas in the world where chronic diseases are rampant.
By definition, a chronic disease is also incurable, being a disease that, once developed, an individual cannot be cured of the condition. That’s not to say that it may not be possible to cure the disease in the future, but it means that our current knowledge, technology, and medical treatments have insofar been unable to cure these diseases, which is why they’re classified as being chronic. However, despite the fact that chronic diseases are the most common and costly health problems, they’re typically also frequently preventable and treatable, which means that those who suffer from these conditions can often live relatively normal, healthy lives once the disease is adequately treated and controlled.
As mentioned previously, the disease of addiction is defined as being chronic and incurable. This means that, like individuals who suffer from other chronic diseases—Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, glaucoma, epilepsy, heart disease, and so on—those who suffer from dependency in the form of substance abuse disorders and addiction can live healthy lives when they seek and receive appropriate treatments that can relieve them of the symptoms and side effects of addiction. The goal of most treatments for chronic diseases like addiction is not to cure the affliction since it cannot currently be cured, but rather to provide those who suffer from these conditions with the knowledge and tools needed in order to manage the disease effectively, preventing the illness from further degrading the quality of life.
The Progressive Nature of Substance Abuse and Drug Addiction
Individuals aren’t born as addicts, but rather develop the chronic brain disease of addiction through a combination of genetic predisposition, biological susceptibility, environmental and social conditioning, and behavior. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cure an addict of the disease of addiction, but due to the chronic nature of the disease, living a healthy, normal life is attainable by putting the disease of addiction into remission and arresting any further progress.
The precursor to addiction is experimentation with substance abuse. As the individual develops an affinity for intoxication, he or she will begin imbibing the substance of choice more and more frequently, which concurrently required increasing quantities of the substance to produce the desired effects. The body quickly becomes accustomed to receiving the substance and adjusts itself, particularly the brain, in order to accommodate the daily spikes in chemicals and hormones that result from substance abuse.
The result is that the individual develops physical—and oftentimes even psychological—dependency on the substance and begins to experience discomfort in the form of withdrawal symptoms after shorter periods of time between doses. In short, the disease of addiction develops out of the progression of substance abuse, which evolves from being a habit to being a chemical dependency.
Due to the nature of the disease, the disease of addiction is classified as not only being chronic and incurable but also progressive. By definition, a disease or health condition is progressive when it continues to get worse with the passing of time, resulting in continued degradation of health and function. Often used to describe cancer and conditions involving pain, progressive illnesses require medical intervention so that they don’t continue to worsen until it becomes life-threatening. With addiction being both chronic and progressive, treatment becomes a necessity so that those with substance abuse disorders can put the disease into remission and live healthy, productive, fulfilled lives.
Written by Stephanie Torres
View the original article: