Recovering from addiction is often a difficult and heart-breaking process for everyone involved. Depending on the severity of their addiction, substance abusers may have to return to rehab treatment several times before finally becoming sober for good. The treatment approach for many decades has focused mainly on 12 step programs and a medication-free recovery. Now doctors and scientists are beginning to change their views of addiction therapy and push for more recognition of addiction as a disease that can be treated through medical approaches. In the past, addiction has been considered a behavioral problem rather than a medical problem but there have been significant changes in the view of addiction and methods of treatment in recent years.
Medical Treatment for Addiction
In only the last couple of years a top addiction society officially declared addiction a “brain disorder” that could be treated by doctors as well as addiction specialists. Medical schools can now offer a specialty substance abuse training program for doctors to be able to treat people suffering from addiction. The government has also created new resources to help guide patients, families and doctors toward science-based addiction treatment and there have been more developments in medication to treat addiction. Now instead of being viewed as a moral failing of the individual, addiction is considered more of a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated.
Addiction Treatment in the Past
Addiction is a significant problem in the U.S. with about 21 million Americans suffering from a substance abuse disorder for which they need special recovery treatment. There are more deaths caused by drug overdoses than traffic accidents in America. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans who are addicted to drugs other than nicotine do not receive treatment. Most of those people who do receive addiction treatment are provided help by programs that are not proven to be effective and are run by people with no medical training. The most popular recovery programs using the 12 step method do not have enough solid data to show their effectiveness. The history of the recovery movement of the past 20 years shows that addicts were shunned by the medical establishment and were forced to receive help outside of it. This is why most drug abuse treatment has been developed outside of mainstream medicine and fails to prove its effectiveness.
More Effective Treatment for Addiction
Over time, laboratory science has revealed addiction to be a true medical problem involving serious brain alterations caused by drug use. Alcohol can alter brain circuitry and most drugs affect the brain’s ability to produce normal levels of dopamine. Even after abstaining from drug use for a period of time, the brain of an addict can often fail to return to normal. Addicts must cope with severe mood swings and intense cravings or urges to use again. These types of brain changes make addiction a disease that should also be treated medically rather than simply through behavioral therapy. Addiction often proves to be a chronic disorder that requires multiple rounds of therapy and treatment to reduce the risk of relapse.
The most significant contributions to addiction treatment have been the development of medications used for treating substance abuse such as methadone for heroin or Antabuse for alcoholism. The future of addiction treatment will most likely involve more medications that can work effectively and be obtained through medical treatment. This type of medical treatment should be incorporated with the therapy available through existing substance abuse treatment centers. Drugs that can reduce cravings and prevent relapse are now becoming a key element in addiction treatment. The biggest changes in addiction treatment have come because of the shift in the view of addiction as a medical disease rather than a social or behavioral issue.
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