Does Addiction Ever Go Away
When I think back to my early sobriety (I got sober back in 2011 when I was just 23), I was working construction with my step-brother. We were, and are, very close. I was his best man when he married his wife. He taught me to drink—young. I became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and he turned out to be a heavy drinker whose drinking never became an obstacle in his life.
This one day, we had been digging trenches and took a break in the afternoon. He looked at me, and asked, “I’m really glad you’re off that hard stuff. But will I really never get to have a beer with my little brother ever again?”
I was a little more than 6 months sober, and I still didn’t believe I was going to stay sober. But the idea of relapsing terrified me. All I could say was this: “I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d ever just stop at that one…”
What my brother was actually asking, “Does Addiction ever go away?” That is a question that thousands (if not millions) have tried to answer, so we’ll look at what addiction is, and then briefly explore what it means for addiction to “go away.”
What is an addiction?
If you walk into a meeting for Narcotics Anonymous, they and other 12-step programs stay away from this public debate. To them and the people who find recovery in these altruistic groups, addiction is a disease of mind, body, and spirit. In this way, addiction is similar to diseases like type 2 diabetes. With proper care and attention, the disease can be managed (interchangeably referred to as remission or recovery) and the affected person will live what looks like a normal, healthy life.
But if not cared for properly, a relapse can occur, and the symptoms of the disease will be physically and visibly present again. For both type 2 diabetes and addiction, the severity and precise symptoms may vary following a relapse. What it says about both diseases is that they are with us for a lifetime. The absence of symptoms—like drinking—is simply invisible when someone is in recovery and practicing abstinence.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.” It is widely accepted in the medical community that addiction is a brain disorder.
Some diseases can be cured, and there isn’t much risk of relapse, like chickenpox. Once you’ve had chickenpox, you’ll never get them again. With other diseases like addiction and other mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder, someone doesn’t cure them. They simply learn to live in a changed way that leads to remission or lessened symptoms of the disease.
Like many people, my brother still can’t understand that alcoholism and drug addiction isn’t about having an “addictive personality” that I can just overcome.
I have my opinions, but I’m just another addict living in recovery (from what I’ve seen and experienced, I would have to lean towards this—once an addict, always an addict). In his mind, since heroin addiction was what brought me my knees, then surely a beer after work would be fine.
There are many people—friends, family, doctors—who believe that people who have addictions have a particular attraction to their “drug of choice,” but that they are far less likely to become cross-addicted.
Throughout my recovery, I’ve met many recovering addicts who seemed to have addictive personalities—they would become obsessed with something or someone to feel good. And I’ve met just as many whose only “addiction” seemed to be to one drug—whether it be alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc.
To all the people I’ve met who live in recovery, it hasn’t mattered what anyone else thinks addiction is. It mattered only that they admitted that they are powerless over drugs and alcohol, and they are willing to make changes in the ways they see, experience, and interact with the world.
Addiction Lasts for How Long?
The answer is complicated. As a disease, it is a chronic, recurring disorder that never completely goes away. But once in remission, there are no signs of the disease. People recover from addiction every day, and many go on to live without recurring problems.
But there are many more who never get help, never recover, relapse after recovering. Sadly, many die from addiction and substance abuse.
If you are worried about your or somebody else’s potential for addiction, Boardwalk Recovery is always available to answer any questions.