Is Addiction a Chronic Relapsing Illness?
One of the most significant principles of modern addiction theory is that drug or alcohol addiction is a chronic, relapsing illness. So what’s meant by this, and does this mean that recovery isn’t possible? Details about the concept of drug or alcohol addiction as a chronic, relapsing illness are below.
What a lot of people don’t understand about drug and alcohol addiction is how profoundly it can change the chemistry and wiring of your brain, and that’s why it’s considered a disease.
Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes an addicted, but when someone does they have cravings that stem from the activity of their brain, putting them out of control of their substance use.
There have been studies looking at the brain images of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and there are changes in almost all areas including behavior control, judgment and decision making, memory and learning.
The changes that happen in the brain of an addict aren’t the same as the intoxicating effects of the drug. For example, you can feel drunk from alcohol, but this doesn’t mean your brain wiring is changed and that you’re an addict. The changes in the brains of addicts are much more long-term and difficult to treat.
Many people who suffer from substance use disorders know they have a problem, and they want to stop, but they can’t, and as their use continues, it causes problems in every area of their life.
A substance use disorder has symptoms that fall into four categories. These are impaired control, social problems, risky use and drug effects which is a category that includes tolerance and withdrawal.
It’s classified as a chronic illness because it’s the result of the effects of drugs on the brain, and as with other diseases of the brain, it includes both social and behavioral elements.
There are particular neural circuits within the brain that influence addiction and scientists and researchers over the years have shown that there are profound differences in the brains of people who are addicted versus people who aren’t.
Despite the scientific understanding that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, society tends to lag behind in their perception, and they still continue to see it only as a social problem or a choice.
Addiction has many characteristics in common with other chronic diseases, including the fact that some of the contributing factors are believed to run in families, and that environmental conditions can trigger the onset and determine the course of the disease. Also, as with other chronic diseases, treatments and management options are available, although there is no cure, and many of the treatments involve lifestyle changes.
Type 2 diabetes arises from a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors, and there’s no cure necessarily, but there are medications and lifestyle changes that can be used in conjunction with one another to manage the symptoms and live a healthy, fulfilling life. If you were to go off your medicines or maybe your diet, your diabetes would spiral out of control, and you’d have to take steps to reign it back in.
It’s very similar to addiction.
Relapse is possible and within the first year of recovery, very common. The fact that addiction is a chronic disease is what gives rise to the nature of relapse, and the relapse rates for addiction are similar to the rates for other chronic medical conditions.
When a relapse occurs, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you should feel shame.
What it means instead is that you may need to seek professional help, and you will also likely need to adjust your treatment plan or make sure that you’re following it properly. In some cases, a relapse could mean that you need to seek out a different treatment approach, but as with other chronic diseases, you can get back on track following a relapse.
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