Treating Addiction as a Chronic Disease

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By: Dr. Soroya Bacchus, CLARE Foundation Medical Director

As a psychiatrist who specializes in psychosomatic medicine, addiction medicine, and pain management, I approach addiction as a chronic illness, just like hypertension or diabetes, that needs to be managed using various tools—the same way you would manage any other disease. Gaining sobriety, therefore, is about more than just not using drugs or not drinking; it’s about being healthy—mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Comprehensive, long-lasting treatment for addiction requires a continuum of care that expands beyond just the drug use itself and addresses the multi-faced nature of addiction. Drug or alcohol use doesn’t happen in a vacuum—there are emotional, psychological, and physical components to addiction, and effective recovery should address all of these components. It is important for us to remember that addiction is a disease of the body and brain—rather than a character flaw or lack of willpower—and that we can treat it using a model that has been successful for other chronic diseases.

If a person is diabetic, for example, we don’t just give them insulin and tell them, “Good luck.” They meet with their doctor, create a treatment plan, receive counseling on a healthy lifestyle, and have follow-up visits to ensure that the intervention is working. They might have “relapses”—spikes or dips in blood sugar or other incidents—but we don’t view that as a personal failing. We simply see it as part of their disease.

Addiction treatment should work the same way. Addicts should have access to medical professionals who can create comprehensive treatment plans that take an A-to-Z approach: psychological and psychiatric resources, judicious use of medication, strategies to address and avoid the actual substance use. They should also help the patients develop insight, build self-esteem and confidence, and practice wellness on an ongoing basis.

Outpatient treatment programs are great for this type of approach, because they allow patients to continue living life while engaging in a flexible, cost-efficient method of treatment. Outpatient treatment is generally affordable, and it teaches patients coping skills in the context of the environment in which they’ll have to function on a daily basis.

I truly believe that successful, comprehensive addiction treatment doesn’t have to cost a fortune—in fact, it shouldn’t cost as much as it often does. A good outpatient/day treatment program with experienced clinicians can give clients (and insurance companies) a good bang for their buck. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to get involved with CLARE Foundation as their Medical Director and to act as a resource for Conscious Recovery. I feel like CLARE is an example of how addiction treatment is supposed to be done, and I believe that Conscious Recovery, with its experienced clinicians and holistic, evidence-based approach, will fill an important treatment gap for people who need effective, forward-thinking treatment at a reasonable price.

About Dr. Soroya Bacchus

As a recognized expert in the fields of psychosomatic medicine, psychiatry, and psychoneuroimmunology, Soroya Bacchus, M.D. has gained acclaim for her pioneering approach to integrative psychiatry since beginning her practice more than two decades ago. Triple board-certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine and geriatric psychiatry, a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Medical Association, Dr. Bacchus is a self-professed “Doctor of Common Sense.” She is a dedicated healer who views physical mental, and spiritual wellbeing as a wholly singular unit, one that must be taken seriously, and considered with insight, commitment and compassion. Dr. Bacchus “mind skill” approach embodies this ideal. “The business of living must be developed, like a skill, with mindful, dedicated attention,” she says.

 

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