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Overcoming an addiction

Overcoming an addiction is not easy. But it can be done. Treatment will take on different specifics depending on the particular habit or substance used. But all treatments share one characteristic: they must be long-term in nature. Wende Wood and Sam Waldner agree that an addiction is a chronic disorder and that there is no quick fix.

Wood emphasizes that there is a difference between "detox" and treatment – detox will clear the substance of use out of one’s system, but it is ongoing treatment that is needed, including seeking group or individual counselling, learning new coping skills, and, if possible, changing one’s social environment (e.g., changing friends or moving).

While a medication called naltrexone (ReVia®) may play a role in treatment for alcohol or opiate addiction (it blocks the "high"), Wood notes that it is not a cure. (Generally, naltrexone serves as only one part of a treatment plan that most often includes counselling or attending a self-help group.) The use of methadone to assist in treating addiction to opioids (e.g., heroin, codeine, or oxycodone) is controversial – while some feel that it is a substitution of one addiction for another, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health believes that it can be used safely in a supervised program. Nonetheless, methadone treatment is not a "cure" and, like all treatments for addiction, it requires a commitment from the person involved.

Waldner emphasizes that while addictions are chronic in nature, they are highly treatable. While the problem behaviour may cease with treatment, he explains, the underlying disease of addiction will remain and, as part of it, so will the denial around having the disease. Thus, the key to recovery is to continue to believe one needs help so that one will continue to seek help. Otherwise, one risks relapse. According to Waldner, in the scope of the 12-step model, this means "keep coming back" – that is, continue to attend meetings as part of ongoing treatment. He describes the situation as akin to that of a person with diabetes: while the condition may be brought under control with ongoing treatment, the disease does not go away and the person must actively maintain his or her recovery.

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