Expectations are High

Many people, including drug users themselves, have mistaken beliefs about drug addiction and recovery from addiction. Two of the most pervasive myths are that a person can get off drugs alone and that most addicts can become permanently drug-free. These ideas stem in part from notions that continued drug use is voluntary and that a person’s inability to overcome addiction stems solely from character flaws or a lack of willpower.

It is very difficult for opiate and injection drug users to quit on their own and relapse is common.1, 2 Many people with addiction problems also have mental health disorders, which makes recovery even more challenging. Newer research about addiction can help families and those struggling with addictions gain a more realistic view about treatment and recovery.3

Addiction is a brain disease.

Long-term drug use causes profound changes in brain structure and function that result in uncontrollable compulsive drug craving, seeking and use.

Addiction is a multifaceted disease.

It is the quintessential “bio-behavioral disorder” with profound effects on a person’s physical, emotional and mental health, as well as his or her family, colleagues, neighbors and community.

Addiction is a treatable chronic disease.

The changes in brain function and structure that occur with drug use persist long after drug use is stopped. “Cure” is therefore not necessarily an attainable or appropriate goal.

What Are Some Realistic Expectations For Substance Abuse

“Recovery” from drug addiction is a dynamic, long-term process. Often people make many treatment attempts before staying in recovery. Research has shown treatment that addresses many areas of a person’s life can help individuals reduce or stop using drugs, and can greatly improve their functioning in the family, at work, and in society.4,5 Substance abuse treatment can be as effective as treatments for other chronic conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma.

Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide” Third Edition. National Institute on Drug Abuse. December 2012


These factors should be in place for a good chance at recovery:

  • Treatment is readily available and accessible.
  • The individual remains in treatment for a long enough period of time to become sober.
  • Treatment continues beyond detoxification. Detoxification is only the first stage of treatment and is rarely sufficient by itself to lead to long-term recovery.
  • Over time, treatment addresses multiple needs including individual drug abuse, as well as issues relating to social, mental, and physical health.
  • Individual has access to counseling, medication, and behavioral therapies that can be used in combination to support recovery.
  • The treatment plan includes opportunities to adjust goals along the way.
  • The individual has the support and involvement of family members who have dealt with their own recovery, and are able to separate.

Center for Disease Control: Department of Health and Human Services publication “What Can We Expect from Substance Abuse Treatment?” February 2002

1 http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/overdose/facts.html
2 http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/sciofaddiction.pdf — page 26
3 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2004. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39.) Chapter 2 Impact of Substance Abuse on Families. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64258/
4 http://www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/healthcare-integration/index.aspx
5 http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

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