One of the most complicated questions facing addicts when they decide to recover is whether or not addiction is a lifelong disease or if it is something that can eventually be cured. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will,” but many still wonder if this issue is actually for life with no possibility of an end in sight.
Is Drug Addiction a Disease?
Unfortunately, there is still a serious debate about whether or not addiction is a disease similar to other chronic issues such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. According to the Office on Women’s Health, alcoholism––as well as drug addiction––”is chronic, or lifelong, and it can get worse over time and be life-threatening.” Many people, including a large portion of the medical community, believe that if a person becomes an addict, they will always be one, even if they go through treatment and stop abusing dangerous substances. They can recover, but they will never be fully cured.
Others see addiction as something that can be overcome as well as an issue that does not need to be lifelong but can end with the proper treatment. As stated by the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, a book by Gene Heyman makes a strong case that the issue is not, in fact, a lifelong disease and that people can stop being addicts at a certain point. Addiction: A Disorder of Choice argues “for the possibility that normal choice processes are at the root of drug abuse,” and that a person, no matter how long they have been abusing drugs, can make a change to their behavior and the way they think about it with the right treatment.
Because this debate has gone on for a long time, there is a large amount of persuasive literature and studies touting each belief and illustrating, with evidence, how addiction may continue on for many years and how a person may also be able to turn their life around.
So Which is True?
Because the relapse rates for addiction are so high, it is common to make the assumption that a person who has been addicted to a certain substance will always be addicted to that substance. In many cases, individuals experience cravings and other consequences of their drug abuse years after their last usage, so it is likely that addiction is a lifelong issue that most long-time drug abusers will have to deal with, even after treatment.
However, some individuals are able to make a change in their life and stop abusing drugs, and although they may still have to live by certain, altered rules in order to avoid relapse, they are free of their dangerous substance abuse. A person may deal with addiction for the rest of their life, especially if their use of the drug was heavy and chronic, but this does not mean that they can’t recover and live a life free of drug abuse.