Alcohol addiction is a terrible disease. The ones who live with its struggle with temptations, shame, guilt, poor health, failing relationships, and a number of other issues disruptive to a normal lifestyle. Treatments for addiction that are based on medicine, science, and sound research have been lagging. For decades, addiction has been viewed as a lack of willpower on the part of the addict and as a sign that the person with the addiction is somehow flawed. With that general attitude, most practitioners of medicine and medical research ignored addiction.
Science has stepped up, and the true nature of addiction has been discovered. Most experts now agree that alcohol addiction is a disease and a chronic illness, that trauma predisposes one to addiction, and that there are genetic factors that contribute to addiction as well. With these discoveries have come novel and research-based treatment practices. Unfortunately, most addicts are not getting access to these breakthroughs in beating addiction, and much of the public still view addiction as a moral failing. The rate of relapse matches the rate at which patients with other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma, stop their treatment plans. This further bolsters the idea that addiction is a chronic disease and a medical condition.
Some of the most important improvements in alcohol addiction treatment include advances made for opioids.
Moreover, these are drugs in a certain chemical class that originates with the opium poppy. Heroin is an opioid, as are many prescription painkillers like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Addiction to these medications is at an all-time high across the US, and beating it is extremely challenging. Researchers are coming up with drugs that can suppress the devastating symptoms of withdrawal or block the high that comes with opioids to both help recover from addiction and prevent it in the first place. Most addiction treatment facilities, though, are not using medications as part of their programs.
Another aspect of alcohol addiction treatment that is passing many addicts by is the recommended duration. Experts on addiction recommend one to two years for a treatment plan, yet over 80% of addicts in programs are discharged after detoxing. Even an extended program of a few months has only limited effect on recovery and avoiding relapse. Addicts need time after detoxing to go through counseling and to receive medical care.
While medicine is catching up to the care and treatment needs of addiction, the policy is slower to come around. Many laws require that health care plans and Medicaid must cover treatment for certain chronic illnesses, but addiction is often left out. Pennsylvania has some of the strongest laws that help addicts get the care they need, yet even in this state, the mandates do not kick in until an addict is in an advanced state of disease.
Though the breakthroughs in alcohol addiction care and treatment are important and necessary and need to be expanded so that all addicts get access, some aspects of traditional care are still needed. The support groups that have developed in the recovery community over decades of being ostracized by the medical establishment are immeasurably helpful to alcohol addicts who make use of them and are a crucial part of continued care and relapse avoidance.