When speaking informally, people often use the words “cure” and “recovery” interchangeably, but when seeking to deal with and respond to the pull of addiction, the two terms mean very different things, and the distinction between them is a very important concept in understanding how to deal with your own recovery. Merriam-Webster’s medical dictionary defines cure as stopping a disease or illness entirely, but recovery as the softer “act of regaining or returning towards a normal or healthy state.” In other words, to be cured of a disease would mean restored to a condition in which it no longer affects you whatsoever, but recovery is where you learn to cope with the condition and no longer let it get in the way of leading a healthy and good life.
One example that illustrates this distinction is diabetes. Diabetes has no “cure,” in that there is not yet a known, medically approved way of making the condition go away entirely. If there was a cure, then the diabetic could simply take that, make the diabetes disappear, and keep eating whatever or she wants without consequence. However, through careful treatments and changes in behavior, diabetes can be successfully managed to avoid sickness or risk of death. Addiction can be understood the same way. Addiction emerges in combination of biological dependence and dysfunctional behavioral patterns, an all-encompassing harmful lifestyle. This means that treatment may start with withdraw and detoxification, but does not end there.
Real treatment is a never-ending process, a new commitment to, one day at a time, stay away from that which you may feel pulled towards, but must avoid in order to live a happy life. Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book speaks on how the process of recovery feels like being “restored to sanity,” as new lifestyle patterns remove the desire to drink or use drugs any more. However, it also cautions continual vigilance and ever-increasing levels of self-awareness and self-discipline, because even a drop of alcohol might result in a return to active alcoholism and all the pain it caused. While other people may appear to enjoy moderate levels of alcohol without negative consequences, the person in recovery makes a commitment to sobriety, because he or she is aware that the vulnerabilities for harmful behavior still exists.
Hearing that addiction cannot be fully “cured,” and will continue to be a lifelong struggle may at first appear a little discouraging, but it is also a cause for hope, and a reason to be realistic and graceful towards yourself. Relapsing is indeed an ever-present possibility, but the realization that you are in a process of “recovery” should let you know that this does not mean that a miraculous 28-day “cure” has failed. Among people actively pursuing treatment for one year, upwards of 70 percent of alcoholics and 60 percent of hard drug users are able to achieve lifelong sobriety. This means that any “failure” does not make you hopeless, but should be viewed as an initiation to forgive yourself, and continue to peruse recovery. Relapse does not mean addicts in recovery have “blown it,” or failed for a lack of willpower, but is a challenge for them to continue the life-saving process of treatment and recovery. Freedom from addiction is possible, but it calls for a continuous engagement to say “no” to the pull of addiction, and say “yes” to that which is life-giving.