It is often suggested that once an addict, always an addict. What this means that once an individual has been addicted to a substance they will always be at risk of further addiction. Even if they manage to escape their substance abuse they may later relapse or find new type of drug to abuse. This pessimistic view of addictive behavior probably does contain some truth, but it is arguably an oversimplification of the situation. There are many individuals who at one time in their life fell into addiction but who were able to recovery and never had a similar problem again.
Disease Theory of Addiction
The disease theory of addiction describes the condition as lifelong and being of biological as well as environmental origin. It is believe to involve changes to the brain structure and function. According to the theory it is possible for people to stop the addictive behavior, but they will not be cured of it. They will be in remission, and the individual will always be at risk of relapse. Some proponents of this theory even suggest that that the disease can progress even when people are in recovery. This means that when the individual relapses they will be in a far worse situation than they were before. The disease theory of addiction is widely accepted, but there are also plenty of critics. Studies have shown that only 25% of physicians actually believe that it is a disease. The disease theory would support the notion that once an addict, always an addict.
Prior to the disease theory of addiction the common perception of this type of behavior was that it was purely about choice. Addicts were viewed as immoral and therefore deserving of their suffering – they were just bad people. This way of looking at addiction no longer enjoys much support. Even those who do not accept the disease model of addiction would not blame it on poor morals.
Life Process Model of Addiction
An alternative theory of addiction is the life process model. Rather than viewing the condition as a disease it is seen as a habitual response and source of gratification. According to this theory it is only possible to understand addiction in relation to social relationships and the experiences of the individual. What happens is that the individual becomes overly attached to certain negative types of behavior. They individual can learn to become unattached to negative types of behavior. According to this theory almost every human will have experienced addiction to some degree but most can overcome this problem with no outside help.
It is often suggested that there are certain characteristics common to addicts that make them susceptible to this type of maladaptive behavior. The addictive personality includes such personal characteristics as:
* Antisocial tendencies.
* Low self-esteem.
* A tendency to take impulsive actions.
* The individual subjectively believes that they have an excessive amount of stress in their life.
* Feelings of alienation from other people.
* A high degree of tolerance for deviant behavior and these individuals will tend to value nonconformity.
* Such individuals often suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety.
* They will tend to feel a high degree of insecurity in their life.
* Those who have an addictive personality will often find it difficult to delay gratification.
Risk of Relapse
It is strongly advised that those individuals who have ever developed an addiction to alcohol or drugs remain abstinent for the rest of their life. There is not enough evidence to support the idea that addicts can later learn moderation. It is likely that those who relapse after a period of sobriety will find themselves back where they started. This occurs because they have already developed a physiological and psychological dependence, and so it will be difficult for them to have a healthy relationship with these substances again.
The risk of relapse does fall over time but it never completely disappears. Those who are in the first weeks and months of recovery are most at risk of a return to their addiction. The risk falls significantly for people who have been sober for more two years. This does not mean that those who have been sober a number of years should become complacent. There are many stories of people who were sober for decades and still relapsed back to the misery of their addiction. The fact that the risk of relapse remains is often used as justification for the claim, once an addict, always an addict.
Reasons for Why People Object to the Addict Label in Recovery
There are many people in recovery who reject the claim that they are an addict in remission. They would argue that:
* They would no longer view addiction as a problem in their life. Instead their main concern now is building a fulfilling life in sobriety.
* There are negative connotations to the words ‘recovering addict’ and not everyone wishes to be identified with this. These people have no wish to be given a label today for the person they were yesterday.
* Some people who have been sober for many years are convinced that their addiction problem is a thing of the past. It makes no sense for them to refer to themselves as recovering addicts.
* When people refer to themselves as a ‘recovering addict’ it is like they are claiming to belong to a special group of people. There are many individual who have no wish to identify with such an exclusive group.
* Some people can also view the term ‘recovering addict’ as being disempowering. It gives the individual a justification to later relapse.
The claim that people should still consider themselves to be addicts even when they have given up their addiction is debatable. Some individuals do find this way of looking at things to be helpful because it fits in with their worldview of addiction. There are other people who prefer not to use this label for themselves as view their addiction as a thing of their past. So long as the individual puts in the necessary effort to build a good life away from addiction it probably does not matter how they define themselves. If the individual uses the always an addict label to justify their behavior then this is not a good thing.
There are things that the individual can do to help them get beyond addiction including:
* Slowly eliminating the character flaws that drove them into substance abuse in the first place. If people can get beyond the addictive personality then they should be able to stay safely beyond addiction.
* If people develop emotional sobriety they will no longer feel the need to escape from life into chemical oblivion.
* If people are grateful for their new life away from addiction they are unlikely to ever give it up. The individual can use things like a gratitude journal to keep them focused on the good things they have in life.
* A common reason for why people relapse after a long period of sobriety is that they forget what it was like – a truism in life is that those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. It is recommended that people regularly remind themselves of why they gave up their addiction and what they would be going back to if they relapsed.
* Building a successful life away from addiction is one of the key ways that an individual can reduce their risk of relapse. It means that people have more to lose and so they will fight harder to keep it.
Those individuals who develop emotional sobriety in recovery are unlikely to ever relapse back to their addiction. This is because they have developed the ability to feel their feelings. They no longer have the need to escape emotions by numbing their minds with chemicals. The signs that an individual has developed emotional sobriety includes:
* An ability to cope no matter what is happening in life.
* The ability to live in the moment and not waste time worrying about the future are feeling regret about the past.
* Such individuals will rarely have to contend with strong emotions.
* They will hold a positive view on life and on their future prospects.
* They are less likely to suffer from any type of stress related illness.
* Such people will find it easy to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with other individuals.
* They find it easy to regulate their own behavior.