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  • Is Addiction Treatable? | Addiction Is Treatable (But Not Curable)

    Is Addiction Treatable? | Addiction Is Treatable (But Not Curable)

    After you complete a treatment program for drug addiction (also called substance use disorder), you’ll likely spend the rest of your life taking steps to reduce your risk of relapse. That’s because drug addiction, like many other diseases, is treatable but not curable. Here’s why. 

    Why Addiction Is Treatable But Not Curable

    Addiction is a chronic disease. That means that although it responds to treatment, it requires long-term management. This is because drugs change the way your brain functions. 

    Addiction & The Brain

    Drugs flood your brain with dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. It’s normally produced when you engage in pleasurable activities like spending time with loved ones or eating your favorite foods. 

    However, when you develop drug addiction, your body will struggle to produce dopamine without drugs. In other words, things that used to make you feel happy and motivated might suddenly seem dull. 

    Even after you finish treatment, your brain may view drug use as the best or only way to feel good. Over time, you’ll start needing drugs just to feel normal.

    Drug addiction disrupts parts of your brain that help you make good decisions. That’s why most people with the disease continue to use drugs even when their behavior has severe consequences, such as damaged relationships, job loss, and legal problems. 

    Relapse Is Normal

    These effects on the brain explain why so many people with addiction relapse (start using drugs again). 

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 40% and 60% of people with drug addiction will relapse at least once. This is similar to the relapse rates of other chronic diseases. For example, both asthma and hypertension have a relapse rate between 50% and 70%, and type 2 diabetes has a relapse rate between 30% and 50%. 

    Fortunately, relapse does not mean you failed or that you’ll never lead a healthy life. It’s just a normal part of the recovery process that indicates you need additional or modified treatment. 

    How To Reduce Your Risk Of Relapse

    To avoid relapse, it’s important to choose the right type of treatment. 

    For instance, if you have a moderate to severe addiction or an unstable home environment, you should probably choose an inpatient treatment program. As you progress in your recovery, you might be able to transition to an outpatient program

    In addition, if you have a co-occurring mental health condition (such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia), it can make your addiction worse and increase your risk of relapse. 

    That’s why you should choose a dual diagnosis treatment program. These programs treat addiction alongside other mental health conditions.

    No matter what type of program you choose, make sure it offers evidence-based services, such as:

    Medical Detoxification

    Medical detox is a likely first phase of treatment. During this phase, a team of medical professionals will help you avoid or decrease withdrawal symptoms as you stop using drugs or alcohol. 

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a mental health professional will help you change unhealthy attitudes and behaviors related to your addiction. You’ll also learn coping strategies to manage cravings, such as journaling, exercising, and meditating.

    CBT can also help you cope with any stressors or mental health conditions that made you start abusing drugs in the first place. By managing these issues, you can significantly lower your risk of relapse. 

    Family Therapy

    Like other diseases, addiction affects a person’s entire family. In family therapy, you and your family members will learn how to repair damaged relationships and support your long-term recovery. 

    Medication-Assisted Treatment

    If you’re addicted to alcohol, opioids, or nicotine, doctors can prescribe FDA-approved medications to reduce your cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This is called medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It’s typically used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy. 

    Support Groups

    In a support group, you can discuss your struggles and successes with other people recovering from addiction. You can also make sober friends who can help you maintain recovery. 

    Aftercare Planning

    When you leave your treatment program and start building a sober life, you’ll encounter various triggers. Triggers are feelings, people, places, or other things that make you want to abuse drugs. Your treatment team can help you cope with these triggers by creating an aftercare plan

    This plan will include interventions to boost your well-being and prevent relapse, such as:

    • ongoing therapy and support groups
    • regular exercise
    • nutritional guidance
    • assistance with housing, education, or employment

    Your aftercare plan should also include healthy activities that boost dopamine and prevent boredom (a common cause of relapse). Examples include reading, painting, gardening, and cooking. These pursuits can take your mind off drugs and set you up for long-term sobriety. 

    To learn more about alcohol or drug addiction treatment options, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our substance abuse treatment programs offer comprehensive, recovery-focused services to help you or your loved one stay drug-free.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Harvard Health Publishing - Does addiction last a lifetime?
    Harvard Health Publishing - Brain plasticity in drug addiction: Burden and benefit
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Treatment and Recovery

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on August 10, 2022
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