Is there an end to this?
Will I be battling this my whole life?
It’s normal to wish for a special medicine or treatment to remove addiction from your life forever. You may even hear some company or other claiming to have finally created a cure. But the reality just doesn’t follow.
Addiction is treatable, and with the right support you can absolutely be able to build a new, substance-free life. We see it happen every day. You can get clean, and you can stay clean.
But “cure” is a specific term. Can addiction be cured? No, not like that. But first, let’s explain some definitions.
What does it mean to be cured?
When most people think of being cured of a disease or ailment, they imagine the disease completely removed from the body, never to be seen again. It’s complete. It’s permanent.
When it comes to a drug or alcohol addiction, this does not happen
Let’s use alcohol as an example. Alcoholism is generally defined by four key symptoms:
- Craving (a strong desire or need to drink)
- Loss of control (not being able to stop)
- Physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms when you haven’t had a drink in a while)
- Tolerance (needing increased amounts of alcohol to get buzzed)
As you work through recovery, you’ll lose your physical dependence on alcohol. Your body may even begin to return to a normal tolerance level. However, while your cravings may get significantly weaker, they may always be there. And if you ever return to drinking, you will still struggle to stop.
Abusing substances changes the reward pathways in your brain
For example, if someone drinks to settle anxiety, their body will get used to that pattern. When anxiety arises, so will the urge to drink. After you stop using, those pathways will remain. You’ll still get powerful cravings, and you’ll still be vulnerable to relapse.
This is why it is common in the medical and recovery world to acknowledge that there is no cure for addiction. Too many people have gotten clean, built a new life they love, declared they’re “cured,” and multiple drinks later find themselves back where they were a few years ago.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a hopeless situation
Far from it, in fact.
Accepting the problem is one of the first steps to releasing alcohol’s hold over your life. You can, and will, find a fulfilling and complete life outside of substance abuse. Never being cured does not mean you are going to be addicted forever. But you have to be honest with yourself and recognize your vulnerabilities so you can take steps to prevent them from becoming dangerous problems again.
How to fight addiction
Addiction and alcoholism cannot be cured. But it can be treated. Here are the tangible steps you can take to reclaim control over your life.
Detox is about completely removing the substance from your body. You can do it at home or in a medical setting. However, some substances such as alcohol and benzodiazepines can cause massive and potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms. Be sure to do your research beforehand and make a plan.
Speaking with a therapist, going to group counseling sessions, and attending 12-step programs are important parts of recovery. You’ll learn about addiction itself, how to identify and address the underlying causes, and how to prevent relapse.
There is no medication that can “cure” alcoholism. However, in the recovery process, certain medications can ease your withdrawal symptoms to help you better focus on therapy. For opioid users, there are three FDA-approved medications for treatment: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), medication-assisted treatment has proven to be clinically effective for opioid users and reduce the need for inpatient detox services.
Naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are often given to recovering alcoholics to ease withdrawal symptoms. All of these medications are available only through an approved doctor. According to an informational bulletin published by multiple government addiction prevention programs, “Research shows that when treating SUDs (substance use disorders), a combination of medication and behavioral therapies is the most effective.” Your doctor will be able to determine which medication, if any, is best for your personal situation.
Rehab can be an empowering experience where you’ll have the first taste of your new, sober life. But returning home to the same environment (and same temptations) can be very difficult. To make sure your treatment lasts, you must commit to serious lifestyle changes. Recovery isn’t just about removing a substance from your body. It’s about replacing the damaging habits with healthy ones, and building an entirely new life for yourself.
Continue 12-step meetings and connecting yourself with the recovery community. Explore new hobbies and interests, or revisit ones that you used to enjoy before addiction took hold. You’ll find that there are more positive possibilities for your life than you may have ever expected.
Recovery is a community effort, and no one can do it alone. Work on building support around you. You’ll have the opportunity to reach out to loved ones who may have been hurt during your addiction. This is also the time to find new friends who you enjoy spending time with and who can help you find fulfillment outside of addiction.
Is there a cure for addiction?
No, there’s no fix-all solution. But there is a better life that’s waiting for you. Will you claim it?
“FAQs on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.” College Drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. 30 Mar 2016. http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/otheralcoholinformation/FAQsonAlcoholAbuseandAlcoholism.pdf.
“Medication and Counseling Treatment.” SAMHSA. SAMHSA, 28 Sep 2015. Web. 30 Mar 2016. http://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment.
Mann, Cindy, T. Frieden, P.S. Hyde, N.D. Volkow, G.F. Koob. “Medication Assisted Treatment for Substance Use Disorders.” Medicaid.gov. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 11 Jul 2014. Web. 30 Mar 2016. https://www.medicaid.gov/federal-policy-guidance/downloads/cib-07-11-2014.pdf.