A Chronic Condition

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  • Like hypertension or diabetes, addiction is a lifelong illness.
  • Biological and behavioral factors influence addiction, as they do other chronic conditions.
  • Addiction can be effectively treated and managed through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, the use of medication.

For hundreds of years, people have considered addiction to be a problem of willpower or of moral failing. Now we know that addiction is a disorder much like other chronic illnesses that involve behavior and lifestyle. Some of these illnesses begin with voluntary behaviors, such as poor nutrition or failure to exercise. But then, biological changes occur in the body to make the illness a chronic condition.

Most people who have chronic conditions, even those who are working hard to stay on top of their illness, sometimes eat poorly or do other things that they know aren't healthy. They backslide, or relapse, at some point.

Other diseases like this include:

  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • adult onset (type 2) diabetes
  • atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

These diseases are similar because they are:

  • chronic
  • influenced by biological and behavioral factors
  • incurable, but can be effectively treated and managed

But in all of these illnesses, as in addiction, medications can be helpful, as can lifestyle changes, for getting better.