Very few people who have completed treatment for alcoholism or another form of addiction use the word “cured.” Most refer to themselves as being in recovery. Why is this? Is addiction curable? Is alcoholism curable? If not, why not?
Definition of Alcoholism and Addiction
Before we address the questions, is addiction curable or is alcoholism curable, it’s important to spend a few moments defining what the words addiction and alcoholism mean.
First, both addiction and alcoholism are informal terms. As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the clinical names of these conditions are substance use disorder (for addiction) and alcohol use disorder (for alcoholism).
Alcoholism, which is also often referred to as alcohol addiction, is one type of substance use disorder. Other examples of substance use disorders include stimulant use disorder (which can include addictions to cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine) and opioid use disorder (which can be used to describe addictions to heroin, morphine, and many prescription painkillers).
The DSM-5 defines a substance use disorder as “a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and psychological symptoms indicating that the individual continues using the substance despite significant substance related problems.”
In other words, addiction robs a person of the ability to fully control their thoughts, actions, and feelings. When a person becomes addicted to a substance, they will feel compelled to continue using it. This continues even after they have incurred harm as a direct or indirect result of prior use.
In the case of alcoholism, this means that a person will be unable to stop drinking even after experiencing health problems, relationship conflicts, job loss, legal jeopardy, or other negative outcomes that are commonly associated with alcohol abuse.
Thankfully, as we will discuss in greater detail later in this post, alcoholism and other forms of addiction are treatable conditions. When a person receives the type and level of care that align with their needs, they can learn to manage their compulsions and refrain from drinking or using other drugs.
How Does Drug or Alcohol Addiction Work in the Brain?
One of the unfortunately persistent myths about alcoholism and other types of addiction is that these conditions are evidence of poor character or a lack of self-control. This belief is countered by decades of research. More recent efforts to learn how, exactly, alcohol and other drugs affect the brain proves this.
As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the primary way that most addictive substances affect the brain is by altering how neurons send, receive, and process the messages that are delivered throughout the central nervous system. The different effects that various drugs produce can depend on which neurons are impacted and how their functioning is impaired.
When a person’s substance abuse becomes an addiction, this is evidence that their body has adapted to the presence of the drug they had been using, and has begun to crave it.
When this occurs, a person will likely need to use larger amounts of the drug in order to achieve their desired effects. Someone who develops an addiction may also experience painful physical and/or psychological symptoms if they try to abruptly end their substance use.
Is Alcoholism or Addiction Curable?
Most reputable treatment professionals define addiction as a chronic, progressive disease.
The “chronic” part of this description indicates that these are lifelong disorders (similar to type I diabetes or asthma). As is also the case with chronic medical conditions, the goal of addiction treatment isn’t to cure a person. Rather, the primary objective is to minimize the impact of these disorders and teach the patient how to manage their symptoms.
So, by this definition, is addiction curable? No. Is alcoholism curable? Again, no.
But that doesn’t mean that someone who develops a substance use disorder is beyond help.
For example, for someone with type 1 diabetes, managing their symptoms may involve following a certain diet and receiving supplemental insulin. These steps will not cure the disorder. However, they will allow the person to live a healthier and more satisfying life.
A similar approach can be taken for people who struggle with alcoholism or other forms of addiction. Medication, education, and therapy can reduce distress and empower people to resist the urge to abuse alcohol or other substances.
It’s important to note that addiction is also defined as a progressive disease. This means that if a person does not receive proper care, their compulsions and other symptoms are likely to become more severe over time.
What are the Best Ways to Overcome the Struggles of Alcoholism or Addiction?
There is no single perfect way to overcome alcoholism or another form of addiction. A program that is ideal for one person may not meet the needs of another. This is why it is so valuable to take the time to explore your options.
Depending on how you have been impacted by addiction, the right path for you may begin at one of the following levels:
- Residential rehab
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient program (IOP)
- Outpatient treatment
- Rehab Aftercare
Some people participate in several of these programs. For example, they may begin with a short stay in detox, transfer into inpatient rehab, then step down to a PHP or an IOP. For others, only one level of care may be necessary.
Remember: When you are looking for help for alcoholism or another type of addiction, focus on finding the provider whose programming and philosophy align with your needs, goals and preferences.
Contact Our Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center in Los Angeles, California
Renewal Health Group offers a full continuum of customized addiction care for adults in the Los Angeles, California. With an array of programming options and several convenient locations, Renewal Health Group is uniquely prepared to meet you wherever you are in your recovery journey and help you achieve your short- and long-term goals. Our drug and alcohol rehabilitation services offer an individualized approach. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.