The Disease Model of Addiction
Why is it so difficult to stay sober? There are several reasons; one of the most prominent and recognized being the Disease Model of Addiction. According to Principles of Addiction Comprehensive Addictive Behaviors and Disorders, Volume 1, “In the model, addiction is defined as a chronic disease for which there is currently no medical cure. The model also views addiction as a disease with symptom progression; not only is the condition chronic and incurable, but also the symptoms progressively worsen over time. Severity of the disease is often determined by the progression of various physiological symptoms, such as tolerance and withdrawal. Symptom progression is viewed by some proponents of the disease model as continuing in a latent fashion even when a patient is abstaining, so if the patient were to return to active addiction, it is likely that a progression of symptoms (when compared to when they had abstained) would be observed almost instantaneously upon return to the addictive behaviors even if the person had abstained for a significant amount of time.”
The Disease Model explains why it is so difficult to stay sober on a biological level. However, the development of addiction often has to do with more than the building of a physical tolerance. In many cases, people begin using chemical substances in the first place because of an underlying issue.
People often turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with an underlying issue. They could be attempting to self-medicate a mental illness like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. They might turn to drinking as a way to cope with a high-pressure occupation; they might turn to drugs as a way to combat the symptoms associated with unresolved trauma. While turning to substance use might temporarily alleviate the symptoms of this underlying issue, it will only exacerbate symptoms in the long run — which can easily lead to a vicious cycle of struggling to get sober and repeated relapses.
Additional Risk Factors for Addiction
There are additional risk factors for addiction, and additional reasons why it can be so difficult to get sober without professional help.
These risk factors include:
- Genetic predisposition. Addiction is largely hereditary, meaning if you have family members who have struggled with substance use, you are more prone to developing a substance use disorder yourself.
- Environment. If you currently live in a chaotic, hostile, or high-stress environment, it will be difficult for you to get and stay sober. This is why entering a multi-staged treatment program is a good idea, and why committing to an extended stay in a sober living home almost always comes recommended.
- Early substance use and substance of choice. Generally speaking, people who begin using substances earlier in life have a more difficult time getting sober. Additionally, the type of substance you use determines how easy it is to get and stay sober. For example, people who struggle with marijuana use often have an easier time getting clean than people who have been using methamphetamine for years.