Do Drug Addicts Ever Fully Recover?

recovering addict in support group

People addicted to drugs can recover and live rich, fulfilling lives. However, drug addiction is a chronic disease. Similar to a chronic illness like diabetes, health professionals cannot cure addiction, but the proper treatment can help you manage it.

Recovery is a lifelong process that requires ongoing management, support, and commitment. Long-term recovery means making positive changes in your physical, mental, and emotional health, rebuilding relationships and connections with loved ones and your community, and remaining ever-vigilant to prevent relapse.

What is Drug Addiction?

Substance use disorder (SUD), known as drug addiction, is a chronic brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Scientists describe addiction as a brain disease because drugs can alter the brain’s chemistry and functioning, leading to changes in behavior, judgment, and decision-making.

Addicted individuals often struggle with intense cravings for drugs, difficulty controlling drug use, continued use despite adverse consequences, and withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance. Addiction can impact the user physically, psychologically, socially, and behaviorally.

Once you become physically addicted to drugs, stopping use without professional help is incredibly challenging. Successful addiction treatment usually requires a combination of medical detox, behavioral therapies, medication, and ongoing support.

Why is Drug Addiction Recovery Challenging?

Drug addiction recovery can be challenging because of the physical and psychological changes resulting from drug use. The body and brain can become dependent on drugs, and withdrawal symptoms can be challenging to manage without proper support and medical intervention.

Additionally, the psychological aspects of addiction, such as cravings and triggers, can persist long after drug use has ceased; therefore, it is critical you have the treatment and ongoing support you need to help manage these challenges and maintain your sobriety.

Some reasons addiction recovery is exceptionally challenging include:

  • Addiction is a chronic disease, so ongoing management and support are essential. Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma, addiction involves changes to the body and brain that can cause long-term health consequences. Coping with a chronic condition like addiction requires managing symptoms and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through medication, therapy, and other forms of treatment.
  • Changes to the brain caused by regular drug use affect regions of the brain that regulate pleasure, reward, and motivation, among others. Alterations to these neural pathways reinforce the positive experience of drug use, making it difficult to control drug use.

While substance abuse may cause persistent or permanent brain changes, studies show that at least “some brain changes and the changes in thinking, feeling, and behaving that accompany them can improve and possibly reverse with months of abstinence”

  • Withdrawal symptoms are a significant challenge during drug addiction recovery because they can be uncomfortable, frightening, and even dangerous. When you stop using drugs, your body may experience physical and psychological symptoms as it adjusts to the absence of the addictive substance. These symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, anxiety, depression, and seizures.

Side effects of withdrawal can be a significant obstacle to drug addiction recovery without proper support and treatment. The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the drug used and how long it was used. Safely managing withdrawal symptoms may require medical supervision and medications to help ease the symptoms.

  • Relapse occurs when you return to drug use after a period of abstinence. The risk of relapse remains even after successful treatment. Individuals may continue to experience cravings or encounter triggers to addictive behavior throughout their lives. Identifying and managing triggers, strengthening coping strategies and stress management skills, and developing a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of relapse.

Relapse rates for addiction are like those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. It is important to note that relapse does not mean treatment has failed, or the individual is weak or lacking in willpower. Instead, it can be a typical and expected part of the recovery process for many.

Other Factors that Affect Recovery

The specific class of drug used, whether you used it in combination with other drugs or alcohol, the severity of your addiction, your genetics, and environmental factors may influence your recovery. The impact of addiction on your physical, emotional, and social functioning often determines the severity.

Commonly abused drug classes include:

  • Opioids – include prescription painkillers or illegal opioids such as heroin. Opioid addiction can cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms and be challenging to overcome.
  • Stimulants – include drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription stimulants. These drugs can cause physical and psychological dependence and can have long-term effects on the brain and body.
  • Sedatives – include drugs such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. These drugs can cause physical dependence and be dangerous in large amounts.

Quitting a drug “cold turkey” can be extremely dangerous. Opioids, heroin, prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines, and alcohol can cause severe, possibly life-threatening, side effects. Experts advise working with a medical detox expert or your prescribing physician to ensure you are safe during withdrawal.

Another factor that can significantly affect your recovery is co-occurring mental health disorders, also known as dual diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders refer to both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder in an individual. These conditions can interact, making both the addiction and the mental health condition more difficult to treat.

Co-occurring disorders are common, with about 50 percent of adults and 60 percent of adolescents with substance use disorders also experiencing a mental health disorder. Common mental health disorders that co-occur with substance use disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you struggle with co-occurring disorders, achieving and maintaining recovery from addiction can be more difficult. However, finding a quality treatment center knowledgeable in treating co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders can lead to excellent outcomes.

Addiction is Treatable

Overall, recovery from drug addiction is absolutely possible, and many have gone on to lead fulfilling lives free from drug use. Recovery can involve a variety of approaches, including traditional treatment, medication-assisted treatment, peer support, harm reduction, and self-help. However, the path to recovery is highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Midwest Recovery Centers offers a therapeutic model that employs various approaches to provide clients with multiple pathways to recovery. Our extended care program focuses on treating substance use disorders, particularly drug and alcohol dependence, and addiction. We prioritize educating our patients about the chronic nature of addiction and empowering them to approach it as a chronic illness they can successfully manage.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-597-1376

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