A Chronic Disease
Understanding the problem.
The way people think about, talk about and treat addiction makes a big difference. The problem is often called everything from alcoholism to substance abuse to a mental disorder. It’s even mistakenly considered a “choice.”
The language used to describe addiction has to change. In fact, just about everything we think and do about addiction has to change to make headway against our nation's most pressing public health and social issue.
That misunderstanding is one reason guilt, shame and inadequate treatment and support can get in the way of recovery. It’s also a reason too few of the estimated 22 million Americans with a problem seek help.
A hopeful fact: this is a treatable chronic disease. Avera McKennan CEO Kapaska, D.O., believes that more people will get the help they need to recover if we better understand the treatable and chronic nature of addiction.
Treating a chronic
Addiction is recognized as a chronic disease, similar to diabetes and hypertension. All chronic treatments, regardless of the disease, share three important features:
1. Medical care
reduces symptoms, not the cause
Healthcare providers can usually remove or reduce the symptoms of a disease, but cannot affect the root causes. Consider the example of diabetes: beta blockers reduce blood pressure and insulin improves the body’s ability to digest sugars and starches, as long as the affected individual continues the treatment. However, these treatments do not return the affected individual to “normal” health.
2. Lifestyle changes needed
All chronic treatments require significant changes in lifestyle and behavior for a patient to maximize the benefits of treatment. For example: even if a person with diabetes regularly takes insulin as prescribed, this alone will not stop disease progression if the person doesn’t also reduce sugar and starch intake, increase exercise and reduce stress levels.
3. Ongoing care
Relapses are very likely to occur in all chronic diseases because of the complexity of factors that often lead to illness in the first place, and because of the need for ongoing medical care and lifestyle change. For these reasons, most contemporary treatment strategies in chronic illness involve regular in-person and/or telephone monitoring of medication adherence, coupled with encouragement and support for pro-health changes in diet, exercise and stress levels. Increasingly, family members are being educated to provide continued monitoring and support for the behavioral changes necessary to maintain symptom remission and sustain a good quality of life.