Frequently Asked Questions
About Addiction & Substance Use

Alcoholism and drug addiction have the same fundamental characteristics as physical diseases:
  • Like most other diseases, substance abuse disorders are progressive and will worsen over time without proper treatment.
  • They are fatal. If untreated, they ultimately lead to death.
  • There is an inherited biological connection that causes a predisposition or increased likelihood of a person having the diseases.
  • They manifest in a predictable way regardless of whom they affect.

Many people do try to stop without treatment. Success occurs for some; however, the majority of people face failure when trying to obtain long-term abstinence on their own. Understanding that addiction has such a fundamental biological component may help explain the difficulty of achieving and maintaining abstinence without treatment.

Research has shown that long-term drug abuse results in changes in the brain that persist long after a person stops using drugs. These drug-induced changes in brain function can have many behavioral consequences, including an inability to exert control over the impulse to use drugs despite adverse consequences—the defining characteristic of addiction.

There isn’t a “cure” like there is with some other diseases; the “cure” is recovery. Individuals with substance use disorders who have been able to stop have done so through an active participation in a plan of recovery. This means that while they do not currently drink or use drugs, they will always be susceptible to alcohol or drugs and will need to make significant lifestyle changes in order to continue to reinforce their new lifestyle.

Addiction has such an intense effect on the individual that even when they no longer use the substance(s), their former experiences have left a lasting impact on the way they view themselves and the world around them. People with substance use disorders don’t consider themselves to be cured, but they consider themselves recovering and “no longer active” in alcohol or drug use.

Because drug/alcohol addiction is a chronic disorder characterized by occasional relapses, a short-term, one-time treatment is usually not sufficient. For many individuals, treatment is a long-term process that involves multiple interventions and regular monitoring.

There are a variety of evidence-based approaches to treating addiction. Treatment can include behavioral therapy, medications, or their combination. Because they work on different aspects of addiction, combinations of behavioral therapies and medications generally appear to be more effective than either approach used alone. The specific type of treatment or combination of treatments will vary depending on the patient’s individual needs and on the types of drugs used.

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