Why Addiction is a Chronic Condition

While the severity and type of substance addictions vary, the dependencies as a whole are becoming widely recognized as a chronic condition. The primary reason is that many of the characteristics of drug and alcohol addictions are consistent with other chronic health illnesses, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes.

Features of Addiction & Chronic Disorders

Drug and alcohol addiction has many of the same features as other medical illnesses. Addiction has a continued course, like other chronic diseases, and is diagnosable. It also can effectively be treated but, unfortunately, not cured; it is an ongoing disorder that requires management for the remainder of a person’s lifetime.

There are several risk factors, including heritability, an onset (sudden or slow), and voluntary behaviors of the individual that influence the disease. There are both environmental and genetic influences. Addiction, like many other chronic health conditions, is complex, and so relapse is common. But, on a more positive note, they can be successfully managed.

How to Approach Treatment

Establishing addiction as a chronic disease has repercussions for how to effectively treat it. As with other chronic illnesses, drug and alcohol addiction must be continually monitored. Needs of the individual may change, along with his or her environment, over time, as he or she progresses through the stages of the disease, making re-assessment necessary.

Another important component of effective treatment is establishing personal responsibility for the chronic condition. It is true that no one chooses to be an alcoholic, drug addict, or type II diabetic, but one may choose to behave in a way that has undesirable consequences. Thus, many addiction therapies focus on teaching how to exercise self-control and cope with intense urges to use alcohol or drugs.

For the best chance of managing the chronic condition, addiction treatment must be tailor-made to the individual. Each person’s abuse patterns vary, as does their family history, societal pressures, and any co-occurring diseases, such as depression or anxiety.

View on Relapse

While relapse is common for addiction and other complex chronic illnesses, it is not a sign of treatment failure. Instead, it is a signal that treatment needs adjusting to help the individual better cope with current personal or societal conditions and recover. While there is not a cure for substance use addiction, applying a chronic care approach, including ongoing monitoring, can successfully treat the ongoing condition.