Is Being an Addict a Life Sentence?

Jordana White
Calendar icon Last Updated: 09/13/2023
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If you have been struggling with drug abuse, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Nora D. Volkow, the National Institute on Drug Abuse director, explains that “drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated.”1 In fact, drug addiction treatment is so effective, she says, that “addiction need not be a life sentence.”

Of course, as with any disease, you must seek treatment for your illness. With treatment, drug abuse can become a manageable chronic condition. After you reach that stage you can overcome the symptoms of drug abuse. You can live a healthy, happy, and successful life, without the pain you’ve experienced in your past.

How Effective Is Drug Addiction Treatment?

If you’re starting to research drug addiction help, you may wonder how well treatment works. Luckily, evidence shows that drug addiction treatment is effective.

First, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. In 2017, 20.7 million people in the U.S. needed treatment for some form of substance abuse. However, many did not seek help—only 4 million people over the age of 12 started addiction treatment.2

This low rate of treatment is unfortunate because all forms of addiction are highly treatable diseases. At least 10% of Americans are in recovery from an issue with alcohol or drug abuse.3

You may have heard that even with treatment, addiction relapse is common. Though substance abuse disorders have an estimated relapse rate of around 40%, it’s similar to the relapse rate for people living with chronic illnesses like asthma who deviate from their recommended treatment.4 Even if you’ve relapsed with drug abuse, help will continue to be available as long as you seek it.

What Are My Drug Addiction Treatment Options?

The most important thing to remember is that everyone is unique. A treatment that was effective for another person might not be your best option. That doesn’t mean you won’t find the right drug addi­ction help. You may need to explore a variety of treatment options.

That’s why treatment center specialists are available and waiting for your call at 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) . These specialists are trained to listen to your concerns and come up with the best path forward.

Even before you make that call, you should know that research suggests combining treatment options is very effective. Many people benefit from combining talk therapy with medication.

Success depends on the type of drug that you use and your personality and preferences.5 Remember, these decisions can be fluid and treatment specialists can help you make these choices. For now, let’s explore each of these options in-depth.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Addiction

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk-based therapy. It focuses on how you can control or change your behaviors. It also deals with how you think and feel about yourself and the world around you, a mix of behaviorism and cognition therapy.6

During CBT, your drug addiction treatment can change your behavior patterns. It also changes the way you think about drug abuse. This type of therapy can be very effective because it helps you explore the connections between your feelings, thoughts, and actions that could play a role in drug abuse. After all, you may know that addictive behavior hurts you. But feelings, emotions, or impulses can make it hard to break free of addiction.

CBT suggests that drug addiction puts you on a path where your behavior and emotions are often at odds. In that way, inaccurate initial thoughts lead to drug abuse and a new cycle of negative feelings.7

Your therapist can help you explore thoughts, beliefs, and expectations that trigger your drug use. You may also look at negative feelings, depression, and anxiety triggers. As part of drug addiction treatment, CBT will make you more aware of those triggers. This can be very helpful when you try to identify patterns that could cause you to relapse.

Then, as you become more aware of your behaviors, you can work with your therapist to change behavior patterns. This will allow you to accept drug addiction help and may prevent relapses in the future.

CBT also helps you replace negative behaviors with healthier choices. That process then rewards your healthier thinking, helping re-set your brain to limit the appeal of drug abuse and encourage behaviors that better serve your life.

Medications that Help with Drug Addiction

If you are dealing with opioid addiction, medications may help break your dependence.


Buprenorphine can help manage the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. It can also reduce your cravings, so your treatment specialists may prescribe this medication. Taken under the tongue, it works by activating and blocking your brain’s opioid receptors, but it does so without getting you high or triggering other dangerous side effects.

This medication is helpful during detox or ongoing drug addiction treatment and works as a stand-alone medication, or in combination with naloxone. The naloxone adds a layer of protection against drug abuse because it will give you symptoms of withdrawal if you attempt to inject the medication.8


Methadone is another medication that may offer drug addiction help. Taking methadone can prevent your withdrawal symptoms. It may also reduce opioid cravings by activating opioid receptors in your brain.

Methadone is a time-tested medication for drug addiction treatment. Depending on your situation, you may be prescribed oral or injectable methadone.8


Finally, when you’re in recovery, naltrexone can help prevent relapsing to opioid abuse. It only works after you’ve completely detoxed. This medication blocks opioid receptors in your brain and, as a result, using opioid drugs would not give you a typical high.

When you’re taking naltrexone, any relapse would give you withdrawal symptoms. You can take naltrexone as an oral medication, or in some cases, your doctor may give you a once-monthly naltrexone injection. Either way, it’s a powerful tool for managing addiction so that it does not take over your life.9

Conclusion: Addiction Is Not a Life Sentence

When you are struggling with drug abuse, it can feel like your addiction will always be part of your life. But, if you seek help, a sustainable recovery is possible. You will still need to manage your disease throughout your life, but it doesn’t need to dictate your life.

So, what’s the key to long-term recovery success? It’s about making sure you always have access to drug addiction treatment. For some people, that means joining regular support groups. For others, it may mean ongoing therapy or medication. Whatever you choose, remember that treatment helps. It just may take time and patience.

You may need to watch for triggers when you enter recovery, just like living with any disease. What’s important is that, in asking for addiction help, you take back control of your life. That brings you one step closer to a life where you aren’t controlled by addiction.

Ready to learn more about the options available for treating drug addiction? Just pick up the phone and call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) .


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. NIH Pub No. 14-5605
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  3. New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. (2012). Survey: Ten Percent of American Adults Report Being in Recovery from Substance Abuse or Addiction.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment and Recovery.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide.
  6. Kiluk B.D., & Carroll, K.M. (2013). New developments in behavioral treatments for substance use disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports;15(12), 420.
  7. Sudhir, P.M. (2018). Cognitive behavioural interventions in addictive disorders. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 60(Suppl 4), S479–S484.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Addiction medications.
  9. Fishman, M.J.; Winstanley, E.L.; Curran, E.; Garrett, S.; & Subramaniam, G. (2010). Treatment of opioid dependence in adolescents and young adults with extended release naltrexone: Preliminary case-series and feasibility. Addiction, 105(9),1669–1676.
Jordana White has over 12 years of experience as a professional writer and editor at national publications, including Life & Style magazine and For the past six years, she has been supporting busy medical and wellness practices, providing high quality digital content across a wide array of platforms. From addiction to podiatry to radiology and workplace wellness, Jordana has exper