Do Addicts Really Recover?

by Fernando Perfas

“Drug addiction” | Photo by Chris Yarzab via Flickr/ Commons CC BY 2.0

In my line of work as an addiction professional, I’m often asked, “Do people with addiction get better?” The question may sound simple, but it’s not that simple. There are so many facets to addiction. The chemicals are but one aspect. The addicted person’s personality attributes, attitudes, lifestyle, and values contribute to and feeding the addiction syndrome. For most people, the obsession by the addicted person to consume chemicals is the most salient aspect of addiction. It 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 chemical abuse is intimately tied to the person’s mental health, lifestyle, and personal values. For example, it is hard to ignore an addicted person’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.”

“My point is 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 a 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.”

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 selling drugs or maintaining his connection with friends involved in criminal activities? Can a recovering alcoholic remain sober while bar-tending?

My point is 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 a 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 overall behavior.

To go back to the original question: “Do addicts really recover?” The answer is a relative yes. Some who consider their addiction a disorder of the whole person and take a holistic view of recovery 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 elicit 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.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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