Addiction Is Progressive—But Treatable

This is the final part of the four-part series, The Stages of Addiction. Read part three, The Late Stages of Addiction: Addiction and Dependence

Addiction is widely considered to be a chronic disease of the brain. While choice is initially a factor in the early and middle addiction stages, once the addiction sets in, it’s marked by physical and chemical brain changes that lead to compulsive use. At this point, choice is no longer a factor in the substance abuse. While addiction can be sent into remission during recovery, using again after a period of abstinence can quickly lead back to the stages of addiction marked again by altered brain function and compulsive use despite negative consequences.

Addiction is progressive. It will continue to grow worse with time, as brain changes continue to affect thought and behavior patterns and compulsive use affects all areas of an addicted individual’s life. During the late stages of addiction, individuals are at an increased risk of serious medical problems, including overdose and death.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that good intentions and willpower are rarely enough to end the stages of addiction to drugs or alcohol for the long-term. Professional help is almost always needed.

Professional Detox: The First Step of Rehab

For those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol, medical detox will be the first phase of treatment. Detox is the process of allowing all traces of drugs or alcohol to leave the body so that brain function can begin to return to normal.

Professional detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who administer medication as needed to help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms associated with the late addiction stages and prevent or treat dangerous symptoms like seizures or spikes in blood pressure and heart rate.

The detox process may take a few days or a few weeks, depending on factors like the drug in question, how much is in the body at the time of detox, the length and severity of the dependence and an individual’s biology and general state of health.

Addiction Treatment: A Holistic Approach Is Best

Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires intensive therapy to end for the long-term. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, during any of the addiction stages, a holistic approach to treatment offers the best outcomes.

This approach addresses issues of body, mind and spirit for whole-person healing. It involves a variety of both traditional “talk” therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, and complementary therapies, such as art or nature therapy.

Through therapy, individuals in treatment:

  • Identify and learn to change unhealthy thought and behavior patterns
  • Address any co-occurring medical or mental illnesses
  • Develop coping skills for handling stress, cravings and other triggers
  • Address the underlying issues behind the addiction
  • Learn about addiction stages and the process of recovery
  • Repair relationships damaged by the addiction
  • Restore function to the family system
  • Address a variety of needs, such as vocational, educational, financial or legal needs
  • Learn to relax and have fun without drugs or alcohol
  • Find purpose and meaning in a life of abstinence

In general, inpatient treatment offers the best outcomes and involves living at a residential rehab facility while in treatment. But outpatient treatment can work for people who have intrinsic motivation to recover, live in a safe and stable household and have a high level of support at home and in the community. Either way, the National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that treatment for all stages of addiction should last for an adequate period of time. Anything less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness, according to research.

Rehab works for most people who engage with their treatment plan, stay in treatment for its duration and engage with the aftercare plan that’s implemented once treatment is complete. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the stages of addiction, treatment can help you end substance abuse for good while restoring your life on many fronts. Treatment transforms lives, and it can transform yours, too.

Download this entire series as a fully illustrated eBook, The Stages of Addiction

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