“Once an addict, always an addict.” For decades, traditional treatment centers and much of society have believed that addiction is an incurable disease. Many, including the addicts themselves, even see addiction a moral failing.
However, doctors, scientists, and the leader of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), Dr. Nora Volkow, are stepping up research and calling for a true medical approach to treatment that will revolutionize addiction recovery and push public recognition that addiction really is a disease—and a treatable disease at that.
It might be shocking to know that 90 percent of people with an addiction do not receive treatment. Those who do receive treatment are often placed in unproven programs with non-medically trained staff, such as 12 step centers, and face high rates of relapse. Even more popular non-traditional programs may yield limited success due to a refusal to use medically-centered treatment.
Fortunately, the federal government recently announced that new resources have been created for patients, families, and doctors to illuminate the benefits of medical-based addiction treatment and the breakthrough drugs used to treat the disorder.
A specialty substance abuse training program for doctors has also been introduced at medical schools.
Science Stands to Disprove Addiction Drug Rehab Stigmas
Unfortunately, creating this awareness and the infiltration of scientifically proven treatment is a little slow to catch on, especially in the medical field. In the past, the medical establishment has often shunned addicts. As a result, addicts have been forced to find help outside of the medical realm, seeking programs that often do not provide long-term effectiveness.
Yet, hope abounds. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has officially termed addiction a “brain disorder,” leading to more journal publications supporting this case. Substance abuse causes strong chemical changes that increase dopamine levels so much that the brain relies on the drugs to produce a rewarding “high.”
With excessive use, tolerance of the substance builds and the drug loses its pleasing effect, requiring increased dosages. Once the substance is removed, the brain still does not return to normal, which can require rigorous medical treatment to help the addict fully recover.
In recent years, several drugs have been approved for addiction treatment, such as methadone for heroin and Antabuse for alcoholism. Among these medical advancements has been the release of long-acting drugs to help reduce severe cravings and the stress involved with taking daily medication, allowing the addict to focus more on the healing process.
The numbers reflect significant results. In one study, 36 percent of addicts given a monthly injection of Vivitrol for alcoholism stuck with a treatment program for six months, whereas 23 percent of patients receiving a placebo did not stay as long in a rehab program.
A Long but Promising Road to Enhanced Drug Rehab Treatment Options
According to Volkow, the new medications will “kill two birds with one stone.” First, medicinal treatment will add a critical tool to the addict’s arsenal of recovery skills, making the rest of recovery therapy more doable. Second, greater availability of medication for treating addiction can encourage doctors to treat their patients’ drug problems, and not just refer them to a local rehab center.
Many US drug treatment centers still shun or show hesitancy toward medical treatments for addiction, with only 24 percent of the rehab programs with access to a medical doctor offering available medications.
But Volkow and other proponents believe that drug addiction is a difficult and heartbreaking disease that often requires more aggressive treatment than is usually offered at many rehab centers.
Combined with the existing benefits of traditional and non-traditional treatment therapies, advocates of these scientific advancements strive to prove that this medical approach will heighten an addict’s chance at finding true recovery.