Can Addiction Ever Be Cured?

Thursday, September 8, 2016 | By JP Emerald Coast

drug addicted man with hand over his face

A common misconception about addiction is that if a person is no longer abusing drugs, he or she doesn’t have addiction anymore. While the active element of addiction is no longer occurring, the disease element remains, making it imperative for those with addiction — active or not — to develop skills and engage in therapy in order to learn how to successfully live with the disease of addiction.

Achieving a cure, in the pure sense of the word, is unlikely. You will have to work to maintain your new clean lifestyle and be aware of triggers that could cause you to relapse. But in many ways, you will be stronger than before your recovery process began. You’ll feel better physically and mentally. And you will have the pride of knowing that you have overcome an enormous obstacle in your life!


When someone is cured of something, it means that whatever was ailing them has been completely removed and is no longer occurring. Addiction is one of the many diseases in the world that are incurable, meaning that even if you stop drinking or drugging, you will still be left with the disease aspect of addiction, preventing you from ever being able to engage in casual drinking or recreational drug use without using to excess. Of course, a cure for addiction would be ideal, however, it is not realistic in this present day. 

Often times, the terms “recovery” and “cure” are interchanged despite not sharing the same meaning. The word “cure” is a verb that describes relieving a person of the symptoms of a disease or condition. Recovery is defined as a “return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” Therefore, attempting to answer whether or not addiction can be cured truly lies in the definition of the word. When someone is in recovery from addiction, he or she has returned to a normal state after spending X amount of time under the influence and not in control of their active addiction. Some people spend a few months or years in recovery and experience a relapse, while others spend the rest of their lives in recovery once sober. As with most incurable diseases, relapse in addiction is possible and can threaten to trigger full-blown addiction once more. One’s risk of relapse can be decreased through continued therapeutic work, however, the risk never fully goes away, because the disease of addiction (and all that goes with it) cannot be cured. 

addiction on ball and chain

As with most diseases, both curable and incurable, the symptoms of that disease can come and go. If you are addicted to drugs and are now sober, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to identify and address the issues that led to your substance abuse and subsequent addiction. When you take the time to manage these issues (e.g. an untreated mental illness, trauma, poor parental upbringing, etc.), you can prevent the development of symptoms that encourage your desire to use drugs or alcohol again. As defined above, recovery is all about restoring your health. That not only includes your physical health, but your emotional, mental, and spiritual health, too. When you care for all of your needs, you can continue to maintain a state of recovery, but you will not cure your addiction. No matter how long you remain in recovery, you will always need to abstain from drug and alcohol use. You will always need to ensure that you are practicing good self-care so you do not weaken your resolve and pick up again. Recovering from active addiction is a life-long process that cannot be removed from your life. 

To understand this better, it is important to be educated on just what makes addiction a disease. Disease is defined as a “disorder of structure or function in a human.” In the case of addiction, the “disease” element lies in the chemical and structural changes that occur in the brain when drugs and alcohol are abused. For example, substance abuse can lead to the depletion of white matter in the brain, which is located throughout the entire brain. White matter is responsible for several functions, including impulse control, decision-making, and nerve response. If a person stops drinking and enters into a state of recovery, that white matter does not come back. Another example includes damage to the dopamine receptors in the brain. All addictive substances interact with the brain’s dopamine receptors, but some cause more damage than others. For instance, someone who abuses meth and gets sober has an increased likelihood of requiring some form of prescription medication to help balance the release of dopamine in their brains, since the receptors have been damaged due to the meth abuse. Similar to white matter, dopamine receptors do not restore themselves once meth abuse ends. What is left over is the structural and functional changes in the brain, or, the disease of addiction. 

If you have an addiction and you do not adhere to a specific treatment or maintenance plan, you can find yourself using once more. Think of addiction like diabetes — if someone with diabetes does not take their insulin, they can lose dramatic amounts of weight, fall ill, suffer from heart disease, and experience chronic lethargy. If the pattern of rejecting insulin continues, that person’s diabetes can kill them. The same goes for addiction. Without taking the correct steps to remain in recovery, the disease of addiction is fatal.


The thing about addiction is that it is always present, even if you are not actively using. This is because your active addiction altered your brain in ways that will forever impact your behaviors, decisions, and emotions. You might not be thinking of this when you first get sober, though. It is common to feel like your addiction is gone once you have sobered up and are beginning to feel confident in your new lifestyle. This is so common, in fact, that many people experience the pink cloud effect shortly after getting sober, where they feel so good that they are basically high on life. Thankfully, this effect usually does not last long, because those who are on the pink cloud are at increased risk for relapsing due to thinking that they are “cured.” 

After the initial euphoria of experiencing life in a sober manner fades, what is left is the reality that there are several elements of addiction that remain, despite a person not using. So, being able to “put addiction behind you” is not actually possible. Of course, there are aspects of your active addiction that are no longer occurring within your life. Those behaviors, along with negative memories, can be put behind you in a way where they no longer impact you. You can learn from your past history with active addiction and move forward. But when you move forward, you take with you the end results of your substance abuse. As mentioned before, the functionality of your brain has been altered due to your use and will not return back to how it was prior to your use. You have also likely developed behaviors and thought processes during your use that have remained with you even though you aren’t using. Just because you are not drinking or doing drugs anymore does not mean that the symptoms of addiction have been removed. This is why you cannot put addiction behind you, as ignoring the continued, life-long need to manage this disease is deadly. 


Addiction is one of many diseases that can be effectively treated. Just because it is an incurable disease does not mean that it is untreatable. In some cases, the brain and body may be able to return to a “regular” state once the substance abuse ends. For example, research has shown that the brain of a person who has stopped using for at least 14 months returns to a near-normal state of activity and health

Even if the brain returns to as normal as possible, the disease aspect of addiction will not go away. Thankfully, however, there are many steps in the recovery process that encourage success. 

An extensive amount of research and countless studies have shown us that addiction is best treated with a combination of therapy and medication. There are many evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and group counseling) that have proven to reduce the risk of relapse. Studies have also shown that there are medications available that can be used throughout different stages of one’s treatment to help make recovery more manageable. Some medications, such as SSRIs, are often prescribed to individuals recovering from active addiction to help balance out brain chemistry. The most important thing you can do when getting treatment for addiction is working with a team of professionals who can develop a comprehensive plan for your successful recovery that includes therapy, medication (if necessary), and other resources that can be helpful. 


Detox is the very first step in addiction treatment for many people. Detoxing allows you to clear all addictive and mind-altering substances from your body prior to beginning the therapeutic elements of your treatment. However, not everyone requires detox at the start of their treatment.

Detox is most effective for those individuals who are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol. Being dependent on a substance means that a person is unable to stop using drugs or alcohol without suffering withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms develop because the body is accustomed to the presence of drugs/alcohol, and when it is not being consumed, the body struggles to function. This can be extremely painful, and in cases where a person is addicted to benzodiazepines or alcohol, withdrawal can be fatal. 

If you are dependent on drugs or alcohol, detoxing in the care of professionals prior to receiving any other treatment is crucial. You cannot focus effectively on your therapeutic recovery if you are still being influenced by drugs or alcohol or are struggling with distressing withdrawal symptoms. So, ensuring that you have fully detox before taking the next steps in your treatment is vital. 

During the detox process, you will benefit from being monitored on a regular basis, as well as prescribed over-the-counter and/or prescription medications to help address the withdrawal symptoms you are experiencing. This helps to make the process of detox less painful and easier to manage. Plus, being provided these medications and being supervised by professionals offers an added layer of support during a time when you are most vulnerable. 

When you have detoxed, you have several options. You are free to return home, but it is highly recommended that you continue on through a program that suits you best, such as inpatient or outpatient treatment.


Inpatient treatment is an ideal treatment option if you have made several unsuccessful attempts to get sober before, you have a co-occurring disorder, or you have a severe substance use disorder. When you attend inpatient treatment, you will live at the facility for the duration of your care. Many people begin their inpatient program by detoxing, so that is an option. 

Depending on your specific treatment needs, you will remain in inpatient treatment for 30, 60, or 90 days. During that time, you will engage in several different therapies, including but not limited to:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group counseling
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Experiential therapy

You will always participate in individual therapy and group counseling, as they are the foundation for recovery. The treatment needs that you have will dictate what other therapies you will engage in during your stay. 

While you are receiving therapy, you may also be receiving pharmacological therapy if you were dependent on opioids or alcohol. Medications like Antabuse, Vivitrol, Suboxone, and methadone may be incorporated into your treatment plan to help you steadily wean off of opioids or alcohol in a safe, effective manner. 

When your treatment is coming to an end, you will work with the facility to help develop an aftercare plan that you can stick to in order to maintain your newfound recovery. From inpatient treatment, you may return home or step-down into another level of addiction (such as outpatient treatment) treatment if necessary. 

group therapy in rehab


Outpatient treatment is an ideal choice for you if you are experiencing a mild/moderate substance use disorder and/or:

  • Your addiction is recent and has only been occurring for a short period of time
  • You are unable to take time off of work or school for treatment
  • You have solid support from family and/or friends in your personal life 
  • You need to be discreet about your drug addiction and recovery
  • You are the sole caregiver of your children and you aren’t able to find alternative childcare

Similar to inpatient treatment, you will participate in several therapies during your time spent in outpatient treatment. Individual and group therapy will be the kinds of therapy you engage in most, and depending on your treatment needs and goals, you may also get involved with other therapies such as behavioral therapy or experiential therapy. 

You will continue to live at home during outpatient treatment, as this program does not require the same time commitment that inpatient does. You will go to the facility at least once a week and spend a few hours there at a time. This allows you to continue on with your daily life while still receiving the treatment you need to stop abusing drugs and/or alcohol. 

Prior to committing to one program over another, it is important to speak with the facility’s counselors and/or admissions team to ensure that you are getting the appropriate level of care for you. Most people want to participate in outpatient treatment because it is less of a commitment and not as overwhelming as inpatient treatment, however preference is not how treatment facilities place their patients. It is critical to get patients into a program that will meet them where they are in their addiction. 


Unfortunately, great recovery centers are not a dime a dozen. There are countless treatment centers throughout the United States, but it is important that when you are looking to get help, you enroll in a program at a facility that can meet all of your needs. Settling for anything less can be a waste of time and result in relapse. 

Therefore, when considering treatment centers, there are several things you will want to consider prior to making a decision, such as:

  • The cleanliness and organization of the facility itself
  • The licensure of medical and mental health professionals
  • If the facility is accredited or not
  • Detox services
  • The environment of the facility

When you go into treatment, you are going to be at one of the most vulnerable points in your life. You want to be sure that during this time, you are in an environment that promotes successful recovery. You want to be comforted in knowing that the medical and mental health professionals you will work with are appropriately licensed to do their jobs and that they are experienced. You can benefit from attending a facility with step-down treatment options, as you may not be sure of what your treatment plan might look like until you are actually in treatment. And, you should be attending a facility that is well-kept and free of drugs and/or alcohol at all times. 

These factors might seem minimal in comparison to what you are going through, but the type of facility you attend will lay the foundation for your recovery. While you are being treated, you want to be informed about addiction as a disease, how it impacts your brain, what to expect in the future, and how to develop the right skills to keep from using again. One excellent quality of a treatment center is one that offers education on the disease of addiction. As you spend time learning about it, you will see that there is no cure for addiction, but there are many ways that you can learn how to live with it in a manageable way. Gaining that education from a trustworthy and responsible treatment center is a must.


We want to play a key role in your recovery. We know that true recovery takes time, dedication, and discipline. We also know that you cannot do it alone. Addiction is an insidious disease that if left untreated, will take your life. And while nobody can cure you of addiction, we can help you gain the skills and information needed to get into recovery and maintain it. 

So, do not wait to make the call that can save your life. We are here to support you through this process. Call us right now. 

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