There is a widely held misconception about addiction to substances. Many believe that once a person becomes addicted, there is little hope for recovery and the obstacles to recovery are insurmountable with little likelihood of success.
Statistics do not support this idea. According to drugfree.org, there are an estimated 22 million people in the United States involved in substance misuse. It is estimated that there are more than 23 million people in recovery from substances. Other sources indicate that ten percent of American adults self-identify as being in long term recovery from substance use.
For those who have a family member or friend caught in addiction, the roller coaster of recovery is one of hope, relapse, disappointment, recovery; and then the cycle begins again. The ups and downs of this road make long-term recovery seem impossible. The behaviors often associated with substance use can be frustrating, disturbing, and infuriating for those around the person. The chemical changes in the brain associated with substance use can lead to personality changes -- life revolves around obtaining the substance. Recovery may seem hopeless, but the Institute of Drug Abuse tells us that addiction is a chronic relapsing disease in the same medical category as other chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.
Just like diabetes and heat disease, substance use disorder is influenced by some genetic predispositions, environmental factors and lifestyle decisions. No one chooses to become addicted or to develop diabetes or heart disease, but lifestyle decisions can have long term, negative effects.
The treatment of any chronic disease begins with an accurate diagnosis, followed by research-based treatment and long-term follow-up and support. Successful treatment of chronic disease requires healthy lifestyle choices such as good nutrition, exercise, developing positive coping strategies and stress reduction as well as following the prescribed treatment plan. It may take time to find the most effective treatment for an individual. The treatment plan and medications may need to be adjusted to accommodate the patient’s individual needs and response.
Individuals treated for chronic disease know that environmental factors and personal choice may lead to setbacks. Returning to previous lifestyles do not contribute to successful treatment. New habits must be embraced. People treated for cardiovascular disease know returning to a high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle may contribute to additional health risks. Diabetics know that food choices and lack of exercise affects weight gain and increased blood sugar. Those involved in substance use find that returning to the same environment contributes to recurring use, legal issues and negative health outcomes.
There is another misconception that the relapse rate for substance misuse is very high. Relapse is defined as the return of a disease or the signs and symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement. In reality, relapse rates for most chronic health issues are very similar. According to a 2014 study by the Journal of American Medical Associated, relapse rates for those with type 2 diabetes range from forty to sixty percent. Relapse rates for those with hypertension (high blood pressure) are between fifty and seventy percent. Surprisingly, relapse rates for those with substance use disorder are around forty to sixty percent as well.
Treatment for chronic disease is rarely a one-and-done episode. Success requires a commitment to follow treatment plans, engage in lifestyle change, and perseverance. With proper treatment and support, people with chronic illnesses can recover and lead fulfilling, productive lives. Treatment works. Recovery is possible.
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Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.