Although the medical and scientific fields have long recognized addiction as a chronic disease, today in most communities, addiction is still treated like an acute health problem.The acute care approach means that clients receive treatment over a very short period, typically 30 or 90 days, with minimal after care. Upon discharge, clients and their families are often left with the impression that the person is well and long-term recovery can be sustained on their own.
One result of the mismatch between the chronic nature of addiction and today’s predominant treatment approach is a “revolving door” – people cycling in and out of treatment because they don’t have access to continuing care or support.
The similarities between addiction and other chronic illnesses suggest that the same kinds of chronic or continuing care strategies that have been used successfully for hypertension, type II diabetes or other illnesses should also be applied to addiction.
Experts say that a “chronic care” model of addiction support would include the following important changes, among others:
- Greater education and awareness and reduced stigma so more people seek help at an earlier stage, before problems are so severe;
- Better integrated care and support with primary health care providers;
- More service and support options, such as peer-based recovery support services, recovery check ups and recovery coaching;
- Greater focus on individualized care that empowers people to help create their own recovery paths (rather than being only professionally-driven);
- Longer service duration to provide continuing contact and support and early re-intervention when necessary;
- Recovery supports embedded across community sectors to improve access;
- More community recovery support resources and institutions, such as recovery community organizations and recovery support groups.
Source: William White, MA and A. Thomas McLellan, PhD. Addiction as a Chronic Disorder: Key Messages for Clients, Families and Referral Sources