When I first entered the field of addiction treatment almost 40 years ago, addiction was often considered a moral failing. If you were struggling with drugs and alcohol, it was because you simply lacked the desire or fortitude to stay away or say no. In fact, “Just Say No” campaigns were everywhere, and addiction was reduced to a simple “good or bad” choice. Those experiencing addiction were demonised, and society engaged in a stigmatising and unhelpful moral panic around addiction, vestiges of which are still with us today, unfortunately.
Thankfully, however, we’ve come a long way. The conversation around addiction, substance abuse, and sobriety has evolved as the scientific and recovery communities has discovered new evidence. One of the most significant changes has been in how we approach recovery through the disease model of addiction.
The disease model of addiction
Addiction is no longer seen as the incurable, life-long sentence it once was. Millions of people around the world are successfully in recovery, living a life of sobriety and wellness free from drugs and alcohol. A very positive contributing factor to many individuals’ sobriety journey is the freedom that comes when they understand the disease model of addiction.
The disease model of addiction is a framework for understanding chemical dependence. Instead of looking at addiction through the lens of morality, the disease model treats substance abuse as a biological, psychological, and social disease that can be managed and treated.
Let’s break down this biopsychosocial model of addiction further:
- Biological. People who have a substance dependence often have a family background of addiction. Maybe their parents, grandparents, siblings, or other family members experience a similar struggle. Studies have indicated that there is likely a genetic predisposition to addiction, with some brains being wired to develop a dependence more readily than others. While biology is only one piece of the puzzle, those with a family history of substance abuse should take extra precautions when attempting to use drugs and alcohol casually.
- Psychological. Many people in recovery will tell you that, at some point, they may have had a “handle “on the substance that eventually blossomed into an addiction. Maybe they would have a beer on the weekend or occasionally use recreational drugs without their lives becoming unmanageable. Often, “casual” or seemingly “controlled” substance use morphs into a full-blown addiction when the individual begins using drugs and alcohol to manage mental health issues, including stress, depression, anxiety, and more. Psychological dependence is a compelling motivator that keeps people seeking out their drug of choice long after the “high” has worn off.
- Social. Peer pressure isn’t just for teenagers – it affects individuals of all ages. People often start using drugs and alcohol at the encouragement of others and continue to do so to fit in and feel included. This social piece is a big part of the disease of addiction, as friends or even family members can influence continued substance use, even if attempts at sobriety are made.
When addiction is treated like the disease that it is instead of a moral or ethical failing, it’s so much easier to get help and treatment. This is in large part because the shame and judgement associated with moralising addiction are neutralised, and the symptoms of the disease can be treated. In an ideal world, everybody would treat addiction like we treat other chronic health conditions, like pain or diabetes. In the same way that somebody with a health issue shouldn’t feel shamed for seeking support, those with an addiction should get the same dignity and respect when seeking solutions and recovery.
What the long-term recovery for addiction looks like
Similar to other diseases, addiction requires a course of treatment and lifestyle changes in order to manage the symptoms. Here are some examples of what a substance use course of treatment looks like for people in recovery.
Many people in recovery find that medically assisted treatments like suboxone and methadone help with cravings and make them feel in control of their lives again. These substances are overseen by a physician and can be powerful tools to manage a substance abuse diagnosis. The medications are not a good fit for everybody and should always be managed by trained medical staff.
Individual and group therapy
Mental health and substance abuse counselling are some of the biggest resources for those who are managing the disease of addiction. The ability to talk with a trained substance abuse counsellor and get support from like-minded people in recovery can be incredibly eye-opening and insightful.
Similar to somebody with dietary restrictions, lifestyle changes are crucial for a person recovering from addiction. These lifestyle changes include:
- Dietary changes
- Healthy, stress-reducing physical exercises
- Strong, supportive friends and mentors
- Spending time doing activities that are healthy and uplifting
- Stress management and self-care
Professional guidance and peer mentorship
As with all medical conditions, having the proper healthcare professionals monitoring, advising, and adjusting your treatment plan is crucial. This can look like a physician if you are taking medications to manage symptoms, a counselor to help build and refine your recovery skills toolbox, and mentors through groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other spiritual and social sobriety groups.
Addiction can be managed – reach out today
If you’re looking for help and support in managing the disease of addiction in your life, act now. Because addiction is chronic and progressive, it’s essential to take steps as early as possible to achieve wellness and recovery. If you would like support in beginning your health and wellness journey alongside an empathetic and experienced substance abuse counselor and you live in the San Diego area, contact Confidential Recovery today.
Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years. He is the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a San Diego substance abuse treatment center specializing in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.