If you are looking to recover, you would be best to approach this as a situation as if you had a rare, incurable disease.

Why would someone addicted to drugs or alcohol view themselves as having a disease in the first place…….because it is!

A simple lesson on why is addiction a disease:

  1. It’s genetic, in fact genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction.
  2. Substance Dependence is chronic and long lasting, persistent and constantly reoccurring if unaddressed.
  3. Addiction is diagnosable and identified or determined through evaluation of a patient’s history, examination, and symptoms.
  4. Substance Dependence is fatal and capable of causing death ruin or destruction.

Teen-drunk-with-tearsSo now you may be convinced that there may be some truth to this whole idea of addiction being a disease. So now you may ask “Why should my approach to dealing with my addiction have me treat it like I have a rare, incurable disease? “ You may think to yourself “I know that treatment and medication exist. I see that many people that suffer from addiction find relief, and overcome their struggle, right?”

This is only half the truth. The other half lies in what the addicted individual does to arrest the disease.

Over the years, I have asked patients “If you had a rare, incurable disease, what would you do?” Invariably the responses I have gotten include:

  • I would get treatment as soon as possible, learn as much as I could about the disease and it’s symptoms becoming an expert, so that I could take control of the situation as best as I can.
  • I would research the disease on the internet to see if anyone else survived. If I found someone or a group of individuals that were successful in battling the disease, I would interact with them as much as possible so that I can learn what they are doing.
  • I would get second and third opinions asking as many specialists as I could to provide me with information on what I should do.
  • I would change my diet, nutritional intake, exercise, and incorporate any other new daily routines into my life so that I could improve my overall health and be in a better position to fight the disease.
  • I would consider taking any medication recommended to me that would increase the chances of remission or would help me reduce the symptoms I was experiencing.
  • I would surround myself with the people that I trust and have my best interests in mind as I knew my time was limited.

The common theme in all of these responses describe individuals that are not willing to be passive about their health and wellbeing. A person that is passive about their health expects a cure merely by getting treatment, taking medication and waiting for results. A person that wants to live is active in their treatment and is not only willing to accept help but become advocates for their health. They do this by constantly looking for ways to improve their chances for success, accepting whatever help is available, and implementing the necessary changes in their lives no matter how dramatic.

As with the person with a rare, incurable disease that wants to survive, an addict does not have the option of being a passive participant in their treatment if their desire is remission and ultimately, recovery. The most encouraging news is that addiction is not a rare incurable disease, but a disease where long term recovery can be achieved.

Unfortunately many people that relapse repeatedly undergo treatment for addiction because they were unwilling or unable to incorporate the guidance and wisdom of their previous treatment experience. Statements that are common amongst those re-entering treatment after periods of recovery include “I know I should have:

  • continued taking my medication to help me with my moods”
  • continued going to my support group meetings”
  • stayed away from that restaurant, neighborhood, or party that made my drug of choice accessible”
  • called my sponsor”
  • continued seeing my therapist for counseling”
  • stayed away from old friends or family members that are actively use drugs”

If you are seeking treatment and determined to recover, the amount of success you can expect to achieve is equally proportionate to the commitment you have to making the changes recommended to you by your treatment team, addictions professionals and recovering peers enjoying long term sobriety. Again, if you approach your disease the way someone would approach a disease if it was rare incurable, and fatal, you are on your way to sustained recovery.