Treating Your Addiction as a Chronic Disease

September, 2019

Addiction is a Disease

Addiction is widely-recognized as a chronic disease. In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine provided a definition of addiction which states,

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.1

We Must Accept Our Disease and Know that it is Chronic

Did you know that nearly half of Americans suffer from a chronic disease? It’s true. The chronic diseases include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, and the list goes on and on. While society may choose to separate autoimmune disease from the brain disease of addiction, they are no different. If a person with diabetes cannot accept their illness, does not follow dietetic instructions, or take their medication, they could die. Likewise, if WE do not accept that we suffer from a disease and that it must be treated, we could die.

So, let’s smash the idea that addiction is a moral disease, a choice, or less important than any other disease. Once we accept our alcoholism or addiction as a disease, the sooner we can begin to recover from it. The good news is that addiction, powerful as it is, can be treated. Sufferers can go on to live fruitful, happy, successful lives. WE have the unique opportunity to stop suffering from the disease of addiction every day.

Many addicts come into recovery with broken spirits and low self-esteem. It takes time for some of us to rebuild ourselves, but if we remain sober, work the steps, go to meetings, and treat our disease, we can pave the way to a healthier sense of self.

If You Have a Dual-Diagnosis, Treat the Second Disease

What is a dual diagnosis? Patients who have a mental health diagnosis, like depression or bipolar disorder (for example) and suffer from the disease of addiction, are considered to have a dual diagnosis – meaning they suffer from more than one diagnosis at the same time.

Dual diagnosis is very common in addiction. Many of us have used alcohol or drugs to treat depression, anxiety, and other psychological symptoms only to find that alcohol and drugs do not address the underlying mental health disorder.

Breakthrough Recovery Outreach encourages new patients to see a psychiatrist. If a dual-diagnosis is identified, medication to treat the mental health component of the disease will be prescribed.

It is crucial that we treat both our mental health AND our addiction. It can take time to find the correct medication that works for us. Be patient. A good doctor will help find the formula that works for you.

Once you know what medication to take, PLEASE TAKE IT.

The Perils of Medication Non-Compliance for Mental Health Patients

Those who have a dual diagnosis must treat their mental illness with the same commitment they have toward sobriety. Mental health problems and addiction go hand in hand. That’s a good reason to remain compliant with medication. But it is far from the most important reason.

The NUMBER ONE reason to be compliant is to prevent a mental health breakdown. I have known too many people who have refused to treat their mental health and DIED as a result. Sometimes the death is because the person has gone back to addiction and overdosed. Sometimes, the person has taken their own life.

LIFE IS PRECIOUS. You are unique and valuable and have gifts that the world deserves to see. Please don’t go it alone. Work with your doctor to find a mental health plan that works for you. Don’t stop taking a drug abruptly or on your own. Talk to your sponsor. Talk to people at meetings, and you WILL find someone with the same diagnosis as you that can walk with you toward stability.

No matter WHAT, remember that a chronic disease must be treated daily. Like life, there will be ups and downs. The ups will always make up for the downs.

Addiction is a Chronic Disease. But There is so Much Hope.

We do recover. There are treatment facilities that are dedicated to helping us find our way. There are free programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous whose sole purpose is to help us treat our disease daily until it becomes a habit. Those programs are there if we never relapse, if we do relapse, and if our mental health makes sobriety challenging.

If we follow Breakthrough’s advice, and “trust the process,” by getting a sponsor, working the steps, finding a spiritual connection, we come to realize that we are NEVER alone. There is power in numbers. Together, we can do what alone we cannot. All we need to do is follow the same simple recipe that those before us have followed, and trust that if they could achieve recovery, we also can.

When I was at an in-patient facility getting sober, my doctor told me I would need long-term nursing home care. My father was told that women like me don’t recover. The world had stopped believing in me. I was a throwaway. Nevertheless, three things happened:

  1. My father sat me down and had a stern talk with me. He told me I could recover. He said I WOULD RECOVER.
  2. Chris Jacobs came to talk to me about living in a long-term residential treatment facility. I didn’t want to go, but I went. I committed to stay for 30 days, and at the end of those thirty days, I asked to stay longer. So much can happen in 30 days!
  3. I CHOSE TO BELIEVE IN THE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVED IN ME. My father, Chris Jacobs, and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now It’s Your Turn

All you need is a kernel of willingness to become sober. If you have even the slightest desire, YOU CAN RECOVER.

Addiction is a chronic disease, but there is hope.

Need More Hope?

Call us at 770-493-7750. Let Breakthrough Help You Pave the Way to a Better Life.