Alcoholism and addiction are progressive diseases, and unless the user stops completely, the disease will always worsen in severity over time. The intensity of this progression varies considerably, and while some people may drink or drug for many years before things get noticeably worse, they ultimately always do.
Unfortunately, some people, especially those people with dual diagnosis challenges, may find that their addiction or alcoholism can progress quickly, and the devastation of the disease can mount month by month or week by week.
So why does this matter?
The implications of a progressive disease are threefold, and influence diagnosis, treatment, and recovery
There is no single medical test that can distinguish with absolute certainty the differentiation between drug or alcohol abuse and drug or alcohol addiction. There are diagnostic tools, and a skilled clinician can make a fairly accurate diagnosis, but since you can’t see it on an x-ray and it doesn’t show up in a blood test, many addicts and alcoholics may continue to deny the existence of their disease.
And since denial is such a hallmark of the condition, and this denial often delays needed treatment for too long; this lack of a clear and definitive testing procedure for the disease is unfortunate.
Addiction and alcoholism are progressive.Use behaviours and symptoms will over time always intensify, and the problem always grows worse. People without addiction do not tend to show this progressive worsening in consumption patterns - people with addictions do. Although the progression of the disease is unfortunate, it does clearly indicate a “disease”, it does at least allow for an accurate and firm diagnosis of the problem, and hopefully compels a denying addict or alcoholic to accept this diagnosis, and get help.
If the drinking or drug use has increased over time, this indicates an addiction.
If the consequences of the drinking or drug use have escalated over time, this indicates an addiction.
If it’s bad now, it’s going to get worse. Alcoholism and addiction don’t go away on their own; some people can get better without professional help (although most addicts do need treatment) but no gets better without a commitment to change.
If you or a loved one wonders about the need for treatment, look at the past to see the future. If you can see that things are getting worse, then you are dealing with an addiction and you can bet the farm that if changes aren’t made, things will continue to get worse.
Treatment works, but sooner is better than later, always. If there is a problem now, it’s going to be worse next year, and treatment will be more challenging next year. You can’t wish it away, but you can take action to reclaim health and happiness.
No one ever needs to hit the bottom. It’s suffering for nothing, and a tragic waste of time.
Addiction and alcoholism are progressive disease, and there is no cure. You can attain remission, but once an alcoholic or an addict, you’re one for life. Recovery is for life, and treatment should never end.
An alcoholic or addict, who restarts use - even after years of sobriety - will soon find themselves just as they were. An addiction that may have taken years to develop will resume itself happily in a matter of days, and you will be back on the progressive road to ruin.
Staying aware of the progressive nature of the disease helps to defray some overconfidence or false perceptions of complete recovery. Know that you can stay sober for life, and know that treatment works but also remember that there is something inside that remains, and if you awake that addiction that lays dormant, it rises up hungry.
Treatment works, and anyone can get better, but they have to work at it, they have to accept that they have a progressive disease for life, and they have to make some pretty major changes.
Page last updated Nov 17, 2010