Do Addicts Really Recover?

By Fernando Perfas

In my line of work as addiction

professional, I'm often asked "Do

people with addiction get better?"

The question may sound simple

but it's not really that simple.

There are so many facets to

addiction. The chemicals are but

one aspect. There also are the

addict's personality attributes,

attitudes, lifestyle, and values - all contributing and

feeding the addiction syndrome.

For most people, the obsession by the addict to consume chemicals is

the most salient aspect of addiction. This becomes their focus of

attention when asking the question, "Do addicts really recover?"

Meaning can they give up drugs and become "normal" people again?

After a closer look at addiction, one begins to realize that

the chemical abuse is intimately tied to the person's

mental health, lifestyle, and personal values. For

example, it is hard to ignore an addict's criminal activities

related to supporting his drug habit or an alcoholic's

scheming and manipulating behavior to hide his

alcoholism when the addicted or alcoholic is trying to

pursue "recovery." Can people "recover" from addiction

and still carry on with these criminal or anti-social

inclinations? What are the chances of a recovering

person remaining abstinent while continuing to sell drugs

or maintaining his connection with friends who are

involved in criminal activities? Can a recovering alcoholic

remain sober while bar-tending?

My point is that there is a "quality of life" a recovering

addict or alcoholic must maintain to achieve a certain

level of healthy living. For some this may mean pursuing

counseling or following medication regime to control

psychiatric symptoms. For others, a complete lifestyle

change may be necessary to re-align personal priorities

and internalize pro-social values. With addiction, old

associations -- people, places, and things - can easily

trigger a relapse to old "bad habits." There is a common

belief among recovering persons that "picking-up" drugs

or any substances is the last step in the relapse process.

Long before the actual substance use, the person has

already relapsed in his thinking - reflected in noticeable

changes in attitude, values, and over-all behavior.

To go back to the original question: "Do addicts really

recover?" The answer is a relative yes. For some who

consider their addiction as a disorder of the whole person

and take a holistic view of recovery, they aspire more

than giving up the chemicals to include a reinvention of

themselves, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.

Others are content with minimizing the harmful effects of

illicit drug use but still resort to alcohol use. Still others

give up drugs but continue to have dysfunctional patterns

of coping or residual manifestations of personality