Addiction and substance use disorder is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management. The work of inpatient, partial hospitalization, and outpatient addiction treatment is to help patients achieve initial sobriety and stabilization, learn skills to address the psychological and environmental factors that perpetuate addiction and to enter a continuous process of integrated, proactive healthcare and disease management.
Like many chronic conditions, maintaining good mental and physical health and wellbeing throughout one’s lifetime looks different for each person. Recovery from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders requires diligence, support, and the ability to maintain secure housing, employment, and ongoing access to healthcare resources. Like many chronic illnesses, medications may also play a role in recovery and improved health, and medication management is essential to maintain effectiveness or to adjust as needed. Regular visits with one’s psychiatrist, physician, psychotherapist, and other care providers are vital components of effective continuing care for addiction.
Communication and transparency between patients and health care providers are crucial to successful long-term addiction management. Every member of a patient’s care team — from primary care providers to psychotherapists, to dentists, to other specialized treatment providers — helps to avoid trigger-inducing prescriptions, overprescribing, and a better ability to identify symptoms of mental health challenges or relapse and get treatment before symptoms progress.
The fact that addiction is a chronic illness should also help our society change its perception of this disease. Futures and other leading addiction treatment providers work to educate the public, elected officials, and colleagues in other medical fields to change antiquated notions about addiction. Until more of our society shares an understanding of addiction as a chronic disease and acknowledges its relationship to traumatic experience and unaddressed mental illness, people may not seek the help they need out of fear of being stigmatized, and appropriate resources may not be allocated to help the estimated ten percent of Americans suffering from active addictive disorders.