Addiction Treatment Myths

In May of 2006 HBO, USA Today and The Gallup Poll asked US adults, who had an immediate family member with a drug or alcohol addiction whether they thought addiction was a disease.

Three-quarters of U.S. adults who have a family member suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction think that addiction is a disease.

Whether you agree or disagree alcoholism was first recognised as a disease as early as 1785, by Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and physician of George Washington’s Army.

In his widely dispersed essay on “the effects of ardent spirits,” Rush clearly called intemperance a disease and, an addiction.

Seeing addiction as a chronic disease may be a hotly debated topic, however if it makes addiction treatment more easily accessible and helps the addict to structure their life around the problem, surely it makes sense to regard addiction as analogous to a chronic disorder?

There are common myths regarding addiction treatment which make the rapid access of treatment for people addicted to alcohol or other drugs more difficult than it needs to be.

In spite of the stigma and value judgments many people put on addiction it has striking similarities to other chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Interestingly enough the rates of adherence to treatment and rates of relapse for addiction and these other illnesses are similar too, so the belief that addiction treatment is generally unsuccessful due to the high rate of relapse is entirely incorrect.

One of the best indicators of treatment success is adherence to a prescribed treatment plan and for patients with chronic illnesses this is difficult. Statistics show that not only can addiction be treated effectively, addiction treatment is often more effective than treatment for other chronic illnesses.

Not sticking to the treatment plan results in 50% of diabetics needing to be treated again within one year of diagnosis and their first treatment. Similar statistics hold true for other chronic diseases.

Around 40% of hypertension patients will need emergency medical attention for episodes of severe high blood pressure, and only about 30% of adult asthma patients take their medicine as prescribed. Although addiction treatment is statistically more successful than treatment for other chronic diseases, drug addicts commonly have relapses during treatment and recovery and begin using drugs again.

The difficulty in following a treatment plan and handling the stress of a chronic disease show how complicated changing human behavior is.

Addiction – an Involuntary Disorder?

Some people argue that addiction is self inflicted. Although it is true that the initial choice to try a substance is voluntary, experimentation and testing limits is a normal part of growing up.

Addiction is a bit like the lottery, we really have no way to accurately predict who will become addicted through ‘normal’ alcohol or other drug use. Peer pressure and availability of drugs influence young people; although not all people exposed to these two factors go on to become addicts. And once addiction develops drug use is compulsive and not voluntary.

Some say that the reasons for initially trying drugs are hereditary, however generally those who experience extremely enjoyable responses to the substance are more likely to use again, until the addictive cycle kicks in. At what point the addictive cycle kicks in is dependent on what drugs are being used, so particularly for youth experimentation is with drugs is very risky as we have no way of determining who is more likely to become addicted.

Unfortunately drug addiction causes changes in the brain pathways that continue long after substance abuse has ended making it impossible for that person to effectively control their intake of alcohol and other drugs.

Once addicted, there are many factors that have considerable influence on the addict and their need to continue ingesting the alcohol or other drugs. Medical science has made huge advancements over the last years and our knowledge of why people become addicted, but also once people are addicted to alcohol and other drugs – what makes them continue to drink alcohol and use drugs despite the negative consequences is now clearer.

Addiction as Compared to Other Chronic Disorders – Many chronic illnesses require changes to patient behaviour and lifestyle as well as lifelong treatment. With diabetes, hypertension and asthma there are external factors which influence the effect it has on the sufferer. The same holds true of people addicted.

Factors such as parenting practices, stress in the home environment and behavioural aspects like exercise and nutrition influence the severity of the disorder. We all known people who are trying to lose weight and yet they persist in poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle.

We know that people who eat an unhealthy diet and do not exercise regularly have a higher risk of heart disease, yet when they have a coronary we don’t berate their poor decisions and lifestyle, we help them towards recovery as best we can.

Certain choices play an important part in the onset and severity of these chronic illnesses.
These disorders require constant treatment for improvement. In most cases the disorders are managed, rather than cured.

Because of the influencing factors and the high rate of relapse in addiction, management of addiction and improvement of symptoms is a realistic goal, although the journey to recovery can be fraught with failure, that doesn’t mean that treatment is unsuccessful.

Successful Addiction Treatment

Treatment which is considered successful has a vast improvement in the following three areas:

• Reduction of drug and alcohol use;
• Increased personal health and social functioning;
• Reduced threat to public health and safety.

There seems to be a strange phenomenon where certain drugs and certain subcultures have better addictions treatment outcomes than others. For example those addicted to opiates who are professionals seem to do better than those who are unemployed with little education, even though the addiction is with lesser amounts of the opiate.

Another way that addiction treatment is successful is that it saves money in the long run. The costs of the actual substance as well as the consequences of addiction are appalling.

Although treatment costs seem initially expensive, the long term savings are well worth it, not to mention the quality of life improvement for the addicted person and their family. Being able to engage with life again in a normal, productive and meaningful way is priceless.

Addiction treatment which is assisted with medication usually has a greater success rate. Medication is used as a substitute to the drug and administered in reduced dosage, making withdrawal a lot less stressful. It allows the addict to continue with everyday life in a normal fashion, much like a diabetic using insulin and a hypertension patient using beta-blockers.

Much of the success of addiction treatment comes through treatment compliance. The combination of educational programs, counselling and medication is essential to recovery.

For a variety of reasons, sometimes due to socioeconomic status and the lack of family or social support addicts do not continue with the treatment program and end up relapsing.

Believe it or not, many patients with the more mainstream and socially acceptable illnesses, like diabetes, hypertension and asthma, (all illnesses that need continued care throughout the patient’s life for treatment to be successful) do not stick to their treatment or make the necessary life changes for their successful recovery for the same reasons that the people addicted to alcohol or other drugs did not succeed.

Addiction treatment is worth structuring as a chronic illness as it helps people in treatment recover. Considering addiction a disease may not meet the rigid classification of a disease. We’re gaining new information all the time and the anecdotal evidence of recovering people has pointed towards addiction to alcohol and other drugs being a disease for many decades now.

Taking Control of Addiction: 5 Strategies for Family Members

Drug addiction can be a devastating disease, but help can be found through addiction counseling. The devastation is often felt in every aspect of life. Family, friends, finances, and careers all suffer when a person is addicted. When that kind of devastation happens, a family needs all help they can get and often feel lost and disconnected. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With the proper steps, and time, things can get back on the right track.

1. Treat addiction like a disease
Medical professionals suggest that addiction is a complicated disease, not just a weakness or bad decision. Many addicts are not able to simply stop taking drugs when they want to. Addiction is not normally about lack of will power or apathy. There are underlying reasons why the addict started taking drugs and there are chemical changes in the addict once they are hooked. Just as with any other disease, a treatment plan should be arranged by a medical professional, based on the patient’s particular situation.

2. Try not to enable the addict in your family
Enabling an addict doesn’t mean purchasing drugs for them, or even allowing them to do them. It means that family members sometimes make excuses and great allowances for drug addicts. At addiction counseling, it is taught that this type of reaction to an addict’s behavior doesn’t help. Instead, common sense dictates that the person suffering from addiction should face their actions and the consequences, in order to learn from their behavior and begin to make positive changes.

3. Seek all the education you can
Part of taking control of a disease is learning about it. In order to help the loved one that is addicted, as well as the rest of the family, many medical professionals recommend learning as much as possible about addiction, drugs, recovery, and resources. Learning about difficult things can help relieve the overwhelming and normal negative feelings of fear, helplessness, frustration, anxiety, anger, confusion, and guilt.

4. Therapy is key to recovery, for everyone
If an addict in the family is ready to face their disease, then they and everyone in the family will benefit by addiction counseling. Family therapy is helpful for everyone to attend, in order to improve positive communication and relationships. Individual therapy is also important, so each member of the family has tools for expressing negative emotions. The most important therapy is for the addict, in order to begin recovery and replace bad habits and emotions with good ones.

5. Try to keep the family together
The goal of helping a loved one to stop taking drugs is not only so they can become healthy again, but also to return the family to a functioning unit. Maintaining open, honest communication can help. With the tools learned at addiction counseling, a family can begin to heal. Medical professionals also suggest that the family members not suffering from addiction receive attention and try to maintain a normal life with hobbies and activities. Go to little league, family barbecues, or anything that can help the family find positive things to do together.

The ravages of addiction affect more than just the person suffering from addiction. Their whole family suffers. It is important to begin learning the options for support and seek help as soon as possible.

Remember to talk with your doctor before taking any treatment or medical remedy.