Addiction is a disease of the brain. It is a chronic disease that requires long-term treatment, just like any other chronic medical condition. As researchers continue to work toward understanding the disease of addiction, the picture becomes more complicated. There are many factors that go into a person becoming addicted to a substance. As a result, many factors go into treating that person. The complex nature of this disease requires treatment from multiple fronts.
The Disease of Addiction
Researchers have determined, through the course of many, many studies, that addiction is a disease of the brain. It is characterized by the compulsive behavior of using a substance again and again in spite of negative consequences. Addiction also includes structural and functional changes to the brain. Research has also told us that addiction is chronic, just like other conditions such asthma, hypertension or diabetes.
We also now know that addiction is a disease with complicated origins. It isn’t as simple as having a single cause, or even two causes. Anyone can potentially develop an addiction and there are multiple factors at play. Addiction can result from any combination of genetic, environmental and behavioral factors.
Addiction cannot be blamed solely on genetics, although family history is an important risk factor. Trauma or neglect experienced during childhood, a troubling event during adulthood, mental illness, individual behavioral tendencies, personal choices and many other factors play a role in the development of addiction.
Multi-Faceted Treatment Approach
The multiple factors that cause addiction, the changes it causes to the brain and the chronic nature of the disease all conspire to make addiction complex. Treating a complex illness is likewise complicated. One single treatment tool will not help an addict overcome addiction. Furthermore, because of the chronic nature of the disease, treatment has to be continuous. As with other chronic illnesses, if treatment stops, relapse is likely.
Another aspect of chronic illnesses is the possibility of prevention. As with similarly chronic diseases, addiction can be prevented. Even someone with all the risk factors can avoid becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. The simplest and most effective way to treat addiction is to prevent it with education, awareness and avoidance of risk factors.
Of course, prevention is not always possible. For people suffering from addiction, a multi-faceted treatment approach that addresses all of the causes and symptoms of the disease is most effective. For instance, a patient may be struggling with a mental illness that contributed to substance abuse. Psychological treatment for the condition is necessary.
Other factors important to a complete treatment program include medical care, social support, individualization and behavioral therapy. Medical care can treat underlying physical conditions, but there are also new drugs that can be used to help addicts recover. Social support from other recovering addicts, as well as from friends and family, is crucial to successful recovery. Having a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual is necessary to maximize effectiveness. Finally, behavioral therapy helps patients learn how to be aware of and to change unwanted behaviors.
Addiction is not a simple condition. There is no single cause of addiction and there is no quick fix or one treatment that can cure it. As with any chronic disease, long-term treatment is needed and must address all aspects of the disease. When patients are treated in this way, they have every chance of successfully managing their addiction.