In conjunction with Alcohol Awareness Month in April, Enterhealth is calling on the addiction treatment industry to recognize alcoholism and drug addiction as a chronic and progressive disease of the brain and work towards the following:
– Use anti-addiction medications that help alcoholics achieve sobriety and heal their damaged limbic system and cerebral cortex;
– Aggressively work with scientists and pharmaceutical manufacturers to pioneer new, effective medications;
– Implement ‘true’ dual-diagnosis protocols combined with other evidence-based therapies to identify and address other underlying problems, such as depression, anxiety or other serious issues, that could be feeding addiction behavior;
– Integrate intensive individual therapy, family therapy, online support tools and nutrition programs that are all vital for helping an alcoholic become more healthy and sustain sobriety; and
– Encourage insurance companies to abandon a “one-size-fits-all,” 28-day standard for treatment and recognize advanced programs, with significantly less failure, are more cost-effective in the long term.
“There is more than enough scientific evidence that concludes addiction is a chronic, progressive disease and if we are ever going to see significant improvements in patient outcomes, we need to map out a serious nationwide strategy to provide advanced care that gives substance abusers realistic hope they can be healed,” said David Kniffen, Jr., president of Enterhealth. “Traditional, 12-step based programs have certainly helped countless people achieve sobriety but the failure rate is estimated at 70 percent, a figure most physicians would consider unacceptable. The bottom line is that until we stop incorrectly attributing the cause of addiction to a moral sin caused solely by personal weaknesses, we will continue to see countless people go in and out of treatment, many of whom will give up hope if they can’t get well. We don’t want that to happen.”
Dr. Hal Urschel, chief medical strategist for Enterhealth and author of the New York Times best seller Healing the Addicted Brain, has long advocated for the use of anti-addiction medications and believes if addiction were treated as a disease, sobriety success rates would significantly improve.
“Alcoholism is just like any other chronic disease,” said Dr. Urschel. “If an individual were a diabetic, his physician would not tell him to simply not eat sugar. The diabetic would be given a specialized treatment program that encompasses the combination of medications, therapy, social support, and nutritional counseling. Alcohol addiction is no different, and with the proper treatment it too can be managed and more importantly, lead to life-long sobriety.”
Alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in the United States after cancer and heart disease, with approximately 85,000 deaths each year attributed to excessive alcohol use. Each year, medical problems caused by addiction, along with lost earnings, accidents and crime, cost Americans about $184.6 billion.
The American Medical Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, World Health Organization, American Psychiatric Association, as well as many other organizations in the scientific and medical fields, now recognize addiction as a chronic and progressive physical disease that attacks the brain, damaging key parts of the limbic system and cerebral cortex. Although an individual’s initial choice to drink alcohol or use another substance is a voluntary one, over time the substance physically changes the brain to where the individual truly cannot stop addictive behavior even though the desire to do so might be high.
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