A Chronic Disease

Research shows that addiction is a treatable chronic disease, sharing many characteristics of other chronic illnesses such as type II diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

Chronic diseases are long-lasting conditions that can be controlled but not cured.  Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable and most can be effectively controlled with proper, evidence-based treatment.

Chronic illnesses are usually caused and influenced by a complex set of personal, family, environmental and genetic factors. Chronic diseases often have a genetic component and tend to run in families. In addition, behavioral elements, such as lifestyle habits, may also play a strong role in the development and course of chronic illness. 

A Treatable Disease

Treatment for chronic disease is complex and often drawn out because of the nature of these illnesses. All chronic treatments, regardless of disease, share three important features.

First, treatment for chronic disease can usually remove or reduce the symptoms of the illness, but cannot “cure” or influence the root cause of the disease.  People suffering from chronic illnesses will usually have to live with and manage their disease over a lifetime.

Second, chronic treatments often require significant changes in lifestyle and behavior. This might include changes in diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits, such as substance use.

Lastly, ongoing care is needed. Because of the important role of self-management over the course of a lifetime, relapse – or reoccurrence of chronic disease – is somewhat common for all of these illnesses. In fact, rates of disease reoccurrence are about the same for addiction as they are for other chronic illnesses.

Despite the fact that addiction is a chronic disease, it largely continues to be treated like an acute health problem. This has made it very difficult for people to get well and stay well.