It has long been a question for scientists and doctors—is there a cure for addiction and alcoholism?

When it comes to diseases, some have clear medical treatments and cures, while others, like addiction, do not.

Merriam-Webster defines a cure as “something (such as a drug or medical treatment) that stops a disease and makes someone healthy again.” Based on that definition, it could be argued that addiction is curable since there are treatment options. But at the same times, those treatments are more behavioral than medical. As such, treatment often includes behavioral therapy, which involves retraining the brain and learning to think in new ways. The hope is that this leads to improved behavior and a life without substance abuse.

This retraining of the brain is vital in getting control over addiction. Though there is no clear-cut medical cure for addiction or alcoholism, there are steps that can be taken to improve the likelihood of management of the disease and ways to recover from it. In this way, it is similar to a condition such as diabetes—steps can be taken to manage diabetes, but there is no one cure for the condition.

The following are steps that an addict or alcoholic can take in order to manage the disease of addiction.

First, the addict has to admit they have a problem.

This is often referred to as the first step of recovery, and for a good reason. If a person does not come to terms with the fact that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, they cannot take any additional steps to combat that problem. Once they have admitted to having a problem and needing help, they open the door to options for treatment and recovery.

Next, comes detoxification from alcohol and/or drugs.

Though not the case for everyone, some addicts and alcoholics have to go through a home or medical detox phase before taking part in official treatment programs. Depending on the severity of the addiction, detox may sometimes be done safely from home, but it is recommended to have medical input when detoxing. During the process of detoxification, the body is ridding itself of toxins, which causes physical withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms can simply be uncomfortable, while other times, such as with delirium tremens, they can be life-threatening. In some cases, medications can be administered to lessen the discomfort of the detox process.

Determining a place and time for treatment is a vital next step.

It’s also a step that can be taken even before detoxing. There are different types of facilities for people of different ages, and places that specialize in certain substance addictions. There are inpatient and outpatient facilities, and facilities in your state or outside of it. There are places insurance will help cover, and others they will not. In other words, there are many decisions that need to be made when determining where is the best place to receive treatment.

Prepare yourself for treatment and be open to the changes for your life.

It’s important to enter treatment facilities with an open mind and to be ready to change your life and your thinking. The majority of treatment centers will engage patients in behavioral therapy as a way of overcoming addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Behavioral treatments help engage people in substance use disorder treatment, modifying their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use and increasing their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive use. Behavioral therapies can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people remain in treatment longer.” Knowing what to expect when entering treatment can make the experience less scary and confusing, and potentially more successful.

Have a post-treatment plan.

For many, staying sober in treatment is easier than staying sober after being released from treatment. Treatment is very structured, and there are many people holding you accountable, so upon leaving treatment, the freedom can be intimidating, and it is easy to return to your old life habits. In order to avoid this, it’s important to think about where you’re going to live after treatment and how you’re going to continue to put your recovery first. Simply going to treatment is not a cure in itself for addiction. After being released, you have to keep putting in the work.

After going through a treatment program, you should be equipped with the tools and life skills necessary to have a handle on your addiction. Though not curable, NIDA states, “Addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.”

So, while addiction is not medically curable, there are ways it can be managed. It’s possible that someone struggling with substance abuse can overcome addiction and set themselves up for success in a drug and alcohol-free life. It just takes time and a willingness to be vulnerable and open to change.

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By – Beth Leipholtz
Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. She enjoys writing about her recovery and the realities of getting sober young on her blog, Life To Be Continued, and as a contributing author for The Recovery Village. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for updates. Read more

Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed 28 September 2016.

Merriam-Webster. Definition of “Cure.” Accessed 28 September 2016.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.