Wednesday, December 07, 2016


The season is upon us. During the holiday season we are reminded to be grateful. I know that all too often in my 40+ years working in the field of addiction, I am often aware of all of the deficiencies that exist. However, in thinking about gratitude in relation to the addiction field, I realized that there are in fact many things to be grateful for that have occurred, particularly in the last decade.

First and foremost are some of the advances that have been made in the area of understanding brain chemistry as it relates to addictive illness. NCADD has been fighting stigma since it's inception over 70 years ago.  The struggle to have addiction accepted as an illness, as opposed to a moral or criminal issue, has been helped immeasurably by beginning to understand the mechanisms in the brain that results in a variety of addictions.  We obviously have a long way to go in discovering how those brain mechanisms work, but the awareness of their existence has helped to move addiction away from criminal justice and into public health.

Another major shift has been the gradual awareness that addiction is a chronic disease, similar to hypertension or diabetes, and that a response must include a continuum of services. In the past we have focused on "treatment". This had led to looking at discrete single episodes of care as opposed to a continuum. We now realized that beyond treatment, recovery supports are necessary for an individual to sustain the efforts that are made to get better. We have seen the creation of recovery support centers, as well as recovery community organizations. This ongoing continuum of care should be helpful to individuals seeking recovery.

And finally, the whole notion of "recovery" has moved the emphasis from illness and treatment to wellness and recovery.   This is a major paradigm shift that more accurately represents the process of getting better, or recovering, from addictive illness.  I believe this is very beneficial to individuals struggling to find a way out of addiction. It focuses on positive change and accomplishments that help to motivate an individual to continue on the path of recovery.

So while we do have a long way to go in understanding the nature and science of addiction, I do believe that there have been advances that have moved us forward in our battle against that disease. And for that I am grateful.

Wayne E. Wirta