According to the CDC, addiction is a treatable chronic disease, and comprehensive treatment is as effective as treatments for other chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma.
Most people who enter treatment don’t do so on their own account. They are persuaded by family, friends, community supports or justice systems that they have an identified addiction. Recent research has actually shown that the reason a person enters treatment has little effect on the outcome of treatment.
Treatment Has Come a Long Way
When you say treatment, a lot of people picture an in-patient facility. But in fact, many people receive successful treatment in an outpatient setting. The most effective approach is one that combines structured treatment and community-based support. The 2007 Alcoholics Anonymous membership survey revealed that before and after coming to AA, 63% of AA members received some type of treatment or counseling and 84% of those members said it played an important part in their recovery.
Addiction Changes the Brain
Addiction occurs in a subconscious area of the brain, the mesolimbic dopamine system. Brain imaging studies of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol have shown that addiction physically changes the frontal lobes of the brain (where decision making takes place). These changes alter the brain’s normal processing patterns, which may explain addicts’ compulsive, destructive behavior.
Many people don’t understand the ways that addiction changes the brain and instead want to blame addicts’ lack of willpower for their excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
The Stigma of Addiction
Alcoholics face huge social and systemic stigma for their condition, and it is often because of this stigma that people avoid treatment. Some doctors won’t treat addicts, and some pharmaceutical companies won’t work toward developing new treatments for addiction. The good news is the sense of stigma is most likely to diminish as a result of public education and broader acceptance of addiction as a treatable disease.