Unfortunately, addicts in recovery are not treated in the same manner as people living with other chronic illnesses. There are a number of points their loved ones, friends, and others can find difficult to understand and accept, which can lead to uncomfortable situations on both sides.
Addiction is a disease.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” Its causes are complicated and include several factors that include environmental, biological, and behavioral factors. Genetics also plays a role in who may more likely to develop an addiction than another person. Other diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, also have multiple causalities.
The disease of addiction causes changes in a person’s brain and their body.
As a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol (or both), the chemicals cause changes in how their brain and body function. With repeated use, the way a person thinks and reasons changes. Their focus becomes narrower. Their drug of choice takes on a more important role, so there is less room for family, friends, hobbies, and other things that used to be important.
An addict will get to the point where they no longer have an option about whether to drink or use drugs. It becomes necessary in order to feel normal and keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.
Someone with an addiction shouldn’t be blamed for having the disease.
We don’t blame someone for having diabetes or heart disease for being ill. It’s not fair to blame someone who is living with an addiction for having that disease, either. That doesn’t mean the person who has an addiction doesn’t have to take responsibility for their actions, however.
It’s reasonable to expect that someone with an addiction gets professional help. Family members and friends can provide support to help an addicted person complete a drug and alcohol treatment program.
Relapse rates for substance use disorders are similar to other chronic illnesses.
The results of a literature review published compared a number of diagnoses, along with genetic and environmental factors. The researchers also looked at the physiological processes associated with illness. They compared response to treatment of substance use disorders versus asthma, hypertension, and diabetes (types 1 and 2).
The researchers found that relapse rates were similar across all these types of illnesses. People who are in recovery do experience relapses, but not more often than other patients who are living with chronic diseases.
A relapse doesn’t mean the person or the treatment failed.
Since we know that people living with chronic illnesses will have relapses from time to time, they are something that shouldn’t be thought of as an extraordinary event. For a person living with a substance use disorder, it’s an indication that they need to do some work in treatment.
A relapse is not a failure at all. Some people need to address new challenges because their life has changed since they first came into treatment. Others may still be slowly peeling off layers of old hurts and traumas. They may have started to fall into old coping patterns and didn’t know how to stop the fall into using. Either way, reverting to previous ways of dealing with stressors is just being human.