People with a substance use disorder, or addiction, are generally viewed as being “responsible” for their condition and there is a stigma associated with suffering from this disorder.
However, medical evidence leaves no doubt that addiction is a disease.
According to NIDA, addiction comes about through an array of neuroadaptive changes and the laying down and strengthening of new memory connections in various circuits in the brain.
Addiction is a chronic disease, much like diabetes and it needs to be recognized and treated the same way.
All chronic diseases require long-term treatment, and so does addiction and share some characteristics:
Firstly, treatment can remove or reduce the symptoms, but cannot eliminate the root cause and return the individual to “normal”.
Second, in order for patients to get the maximum benefit out of treatment, lifestyle and behavior changes have to be affected.
Lastly, because the complexity of factors lead to a chronic illness, and a need for long-term treatment and lifestyle changes, relapses can occur even after successful completion of treatment.
Does this mean an individual with addiction has no hope? To the contrary: when a patient is motivated and goes into treatment knowing the challenges he will face the chances are good that he/she will achieve successful recovery. However, more than one episode of treatment may be needed to achieve long-term sobriety.