Is There Such a Thing as an Addiction That Can’t Be Treated?

Man depressed in the bed.

If you have suffered from addiction or if you have had a family member or loved one who bore the struggle of dependency to addictive substances, you know the sheer severity of such an affliction and what it means to struggle with habits like these. If you have seen this first hand, it will be more than clear to you just how damaging a drug habit can be. You know how life-threatening it can be, and just how terrible it is for those close to an addict.

Sometimes, because those who have to witness addiction are constantly exposed to this daily hardship, people get the idea that some addictions are untreatable. Some people get the notion that, no matter how hard one tries, some addictions just “get a person too far gone” and can’t be remedied. But is it plausible that all addictions, no matter how bad they are, could be treated successfully, as long as certain factors were present? I believe this is true.

Yes, Addiction is Tough

For our purposes here we will define addiction as the repeated involvement with a substance, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable. Addiction is a severely debilitating affliction that takes, takes, and takes until there is nothing left.

Man feeling pain.

Another definition, known as the “disease model” defines addiction as an incurable brain disease. This creates the idea that addiction is inescapable by everyone, a theory immediately disproven by the fact that thousands of struggling addicts break free and stay free from their drug habits every year.

But we get the idea. Yes, addiction is hard. So hard in fact that thousands of Americans would find it necessary to label the problem an “incurable disease.”

But just because something is hard does not make it impossible. Just because someone has tried to address a drug habit and has failed several times does not mean that they cannot try again. And just because someone relapses after getting clean does not mean that they are stuck with a habit for life.

Anyone Who Wants Freedom can Seek It

Alva Noë is a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley who writes articles for National Public Radio. In one article Noë took a sensible stance on addiction and brain chemistry. He sought to encourage readers to see that addiction was not just a “brain disease” as so many medical experts would have us believe. Instead, he views addiction as a highly complicated condition. In his view, addressing addiction would take an effective approach at addressing the many facets that comprise an addictive habit.

“The risk factors for addiction include: genetic makeup and other individual biological factors; age; psychological factors related to a person’s unique history and personality; environmental factors such as the availability of drugs, family, peer dynamics…”

In his article for National Public Radio, Noë says, “The risk factors for addiction include: genetic makeup and other individual biological factors; age; psychological factors related to a person’s unique history and personality; environmental factors such as the availability of drugs, family, peer dynamics, financial resources, cultural norms, exposure to stress, access to social support.”

When we say that addiction is a brain disease and that some people are just going to have it forever, or when we say that addiction for some people is just “so bad” that they are always going to have it, all we are really doing is running away from confronting the sizable problem that is addiction.

The Right Help Versus the Wrong Help – Ways to Address Addiction

Help note with bunch of pills on the table.

The main reason why people tend to get apathetic about addiction, whether it is happening to themselves or someone else, is because they are not doing enough to address it. Remember what Alva Noë said, that addiction is an intricate problem with multiple factors. If we don’t address all of those factors, of course, addiction will look like an “incurable disease.”

This is why addicts need to get the right help.

The right help for an addiction habit certainly does not lie in taking extra medications under a “Medication-Assisted Therapy” plan. It also does not lie in only going to meetings twice a week, or in only praying in one’s church. Remember, addiction is a multi-faceted crisis, so only a multi-faceted treatment approach will be effective in addressing it.

Such a multi-faceted approach is found at some, but not all, inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers. And even with the help of such a program, the journey is still a tough one, riddled with pitfalls and traps along the way. Addiction is a terrible affliction with immense risk for relapse. But no matter how bad it gets, going through the right treatment program and sticking to it can and will pull even the most heavily afflicted of addicts back from the cliff of self-destruction that is an addiction.

How Addiction Treatment Turns an Addict’s Life Around

Sober friends.

Treatment at a qualified, residential drug rehab turns an addict’s life around because this type of treatment is able to address all of the many aspects and facets that comprise a drug habit or an alcohol addiction. Inpatient drug rehabs leave no stone left unturned, addressing everything from an individual’s chemical dependence, their past, what got them using in the first place, their relationships, their struggles in life, their difficulties staying sober, their problems in career, finance, family, etc.

Some inpatient rehabs teach coping strategies and relapse prevention all based on the unique needs of the individual., as well as life skills and good strategies for better living. These rehabs get recovering addicts out of the past and into the present. Rehabs address one’s underlying crisis and difficulties that precipitated drug use, and rehabs focus on how the individual is going to better handle issues like that in the future. Rehabs cover it all: educational aspects, spiritual implications, the physical, the mental, the behavioral, everything. In this way, even if an individual has been misusing substances for decades, they can still find freedom from their habits once and for all.

Current society and the addiction epidemic has given us this idea that some addictions are untreatable and permanent. But this is not the case, and it never has been. No matter how bad it is, there is always a way out of it all, if enough effort and dedication are applied to one’s journey for sobriety. If you or a loved one are entering treatment, ask how the treatment will address these various facets and don't be satisfied with anything other than a comprehensive program designed to handle the whole individual and not just the “disease” of addiction.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, CCS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.