Our world has evolved drastically in how we view addiction. If you would have called alcoholism a disease just 50 years ago, you would have been part of the bold minority. Decades ago, people didn’t understand addiction and therefore labeled those struggling with it as immoral degenerates. No wonder so many people tried to hide their addiction instead of seeking help. Those who became addicted to drugs or alcohol were viewed as horrible people by their society.
The way we talk about, view, and handle addiction, even in the last decade, continues to evolve. This is in most part due to social influencers and mental health advocates vocally working to eradicate the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental illness.
Before there was substantial research that addiction is a treatable mental disease, authorities often sent people to prison or threw them in asylums for their addictions. Aristotle viewed addiction as an “incontinence of will.” The stigma for addiction was dark, dirty, and immoral. People didn’t know any better. However, those who fell into the dark, deep waters of addiction were often viewed as worthless animals. Sadly, if you had an addiction before the 50s, you had no support or resources to help you out of it.
With long-term drug use, the body develops a dependence on the substance. Detox is the process of removing all traces of drugs or alcohol from the body so a person is physically stable and able to begin rehab. This is the part of addiction treatment that tackles the “physical” side of the problem. Detox is often a crucial first step, and often, the hardest step.
Those thrown into asylums or prison for their addiction unintentionally detoxed. Without the knowledge of physical dependence and withdrawal that we have today, the process was tortuous for them. Most people believed that those facing the painful effects of detoxification deserved it because of their immoral behavior.
As research reached new heights and our understanding of substance abuse disorder grew, detoxification became the primary goal of addiction recovery treatment. In the 1950s, alcoholism was declared a disease, and in 1970, people were urging lawmakers to pass laws that would allow alcoholics to receive treatment instead of imprisonment. This shift was a pivotal part in the evolution of substance abuse treatment.
At this time, doctors still had quite a limited understanding of the physical detoxification process. They didn’t know how to mitigate the pain of withdrawal. Later, doctors discovered medications that could help with withdrawal symptoms, such as bupropion and methadone. Society’s view on addiction started to transform as experts began to view it as a physical and mental disease of the body and mind.
Doctors began treating more and more people struggling with addiction. Still, once patients completed the detoxification process and were in the recovery phase, they were considered to be cured of their addiction.
Making Waves in Addiction Treatment
We have come a long way in understanding addiction and how it affects the brain. It took many years, many dedicated scientists and doctors, and a lot of research to understand that addiction is a very complex mental disease that affects the body and brain.
Scientists and doctors began to develop treatment processes beyond just detoxification, as we now know that detoxification is only the first step to recovery. Addiction recovery requires rewiring brain circuits and mental strengthening. It can be a long process to repair those brain circuits and reduce the desire to use drugs. Long-term drug use dramatically affects the memory, reward-fulfillment, and inhibition areas of the brain.
Today, advanced addiction treatment takes a comprehensive approach. It targets both the physical and mental elements of the disease to give patients the necessary tools to reach long-term sobriety. Addiction recovery programs help patients receive care for both their withdrawal and the physical and underlying health problems that developed from their substance abuse.
Substances are often coping mechanisms to deal with untreated mental health disorders, and they are likely to continue the cycle of coping without proper treatment of the mental issue. The painful effects of withdrawal also can increase a patient’s chances of giving up and turning back to their addiction.
Recovery: A Life-Long Process
One of the most revolutionary and impactful changes in how we view addiction today involves the knowledge that addiction recovery is a life-long process. It is a chronic illness. People with addiction need love, support, and resources for most, if not all, of their lives to stay strong enough to survive sober. No matter how much time has passed, you’ll always be “in recovery.”
How sad for people back in the day who had to face harsh punishments for their substance abuse disorders. We are lucky for the knowledge, resources, and many residential detox and addiction recovery centers we have today. You are never alone in your recovery. Sometimes, the biggest sign of strength is seeking help for your weaknesses. We see you. We feel you. We are here to help.