Do Addicts Really Recover?

By Fernando Perfas

In my line of work as addiction
professional, I'm often asked "Do
people with addiction get better?"
The question may sound simple
but it's not really that simple.
There are so many facets to
addiction. The chemicals are but
one aspect. There also are the
addict's personality attributes,
attitudes, lifestyle, and values - all contributing and
feeding the addiction syndrome.

For most people, the obsession by the addict to consume chemicals is
the most salient aspect of addiction. This becomes their focus of
attention when asking the question, "Do addicts really recover?"
Meaning can they give up drugs and become "normal" people again?

After a closer look at addiction, one begins to realize that
the chemical abuse is intimately tied to the person's
mental health, lifestyle, and personal values. For
example, it is hard to ignore an addict's criminal activities
related to supporting his drug habit or an alcoholic's
scheming and manipulating behavior to hide his
alcoholism when the addicted or alcoholic is trying to
pursue "recovery." Can people "recover" from addiction
and still carry on with these criminal or anti-social
inclinations? What are the chances of a recovering
person remaining abstinent while continuing to sell drugs
or maintaining his connection with friends who are
involved in criminal activities? Can a recovering alcoholic
remain sober while bar-tending?

My point is that there is a "quality of life" a recovering
addict or alcoholic must maintain to achieve a certain
level of healthy living. For some this may mean pursuing
counseling or following medication regime to control
psychiatric symptoms. For others, a complete lifestyle
change may be necessary to re-align personal priorities
and internalize pro-social values. With addiction, old
associations -- people, places, and things - can easily
trigger a relapse to old "bad habits." There is a common
belief among recovering persons that "picking-up" drugs
or any substances is the last step in the relapse process.
Long before the actual substance use, the person has
already relapsed in his thinking - reflected in noticeable
changes in attitude, values, and over-all behavior.

To go back to the original question: "Do addicts really
recover?" The answer is a relative yes. For some who
consider their addiction as a disorder of the whole person
and take a holistic view of recovery, they aspire more
than giving up the chemicals to include a reinvention of
themselves, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
Others are content with minimizing the harmful effects of
illicit drug use but still resort to alcohol use. Still others
give up drugs but continue to have dysfunctional patterns
of coping or residual manifestations of personality
disorders.
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