In Ask Men http://www.askmen.com/news/sports/science-may-have-found-a-virus-that-cures-alcoholism.html they point out that they have discovered how to reduce alcoholic drinking in rats “through a genetically engineered virus.” And while this is currently tested and proven to work in lab rats, Live Science http://www.livescience.com/56633-can-a-virus-fight-alcoholism.html reports that “we’re not yet at the point of using the same method in humans.”
The conclusion is this: We are probably a long ways off, as measured in months, from a point when we are actually using a virus to change the genetics of humans in order to fight alcoholism or drug addiction. But the therapy is real and it is proven to work in lab rats already, so this sort of “cure” is surely coming down the line at some point. The question is, are we ready for it?
Having worked in a treatment center for several years I can say that we currently are not ready for such a drug, though we have to stumble through and learn how to adapt to it as best we can. The reason I say that we are not ready for it yet is because this new genetically engineered “cure” is not really a full blown cure for addiction. It is one therapy that can help reduce cravings, but people hear about such a therapy and they want for it to be a cure, and it just isn’t there yet.
In other words, if an opiate addict hears about Suboxone therapy, for example, and they get excited about trying it and they really think it would help them, then that person has about zero chance of being successful in recovery.
Now why would I say that? Doesn’t it sound like an overly cynical statement to make?
The truth is, I have watched hundreds of people elect to use various medications that are designed to reduce cravings and help them to fight addiction. The problem is that when someone jumps at the chance to try such a medication, it is almost always because they secretly hope to depend on that therapy to help them beat their addiction. All the while, the therapists and medical staff at rehab are telling the person things like “This medication works in conjunction with regular AA meetings, weekly therapy sessions, counseling, intensive outpatient treatment, and so on.” But the client in question isn’t really hearing them. All they hear is that this wonderful medication can supposedly reduce their cravings, as if by magic. And the typical addict or alcoholic believes that this is their only problem, that they crave the drug and if the craving would just go away then they would be totally fine. They don’t hear the part about needing to stay in therapy, to keep doing treatment, to go to AA meetings and work through the steps. That all sounds like a whole bunch of work that no one really wants to do. And the solution of just taking a magic pill each day, a magic pill that makes all the cravings go away, is just too good to resist.
So the addict or alcoholic hears about a medication like this and they grasp on to it. “That’s my solution!” they think. A magic pill that eliminates cravings. So much easier than doing all of that other work and going to meetings and all of that nonsense.
And so the person sets themselves up for failure. They rely on the magic pill to fix their addiction, and therefore they put almost no effort into the really challenging parts of recovery (like going to daily AA meetings) and therefore they fail.
So every time a new medication is announced that is going to cure addiction or revolutionize the way that we treat addiction, I just have to arch an eyebrow up in suspicion. The fundamental problem is one of self destruction. I am not sure that there is a medication that can really fix this without also being something that is, itself, addictive.
By all means, I think we should keep developing new medications that can help us in the fight against addiction. But I don’t think that we have yet learned how to best present these drugs to the community that needs them. Because somehow the community is not getting the right message. They are hoping for a cure when all they really get is a helpful supplement. They are hoping that their cravings are going to disappear completely when all they really get is a slight reduction in intensity. And so I think we are setting people up for failure with these medications because they come to rely on them as being their primary solution, when in fact the medications are just not that magically yet. Maybe some day they will be. Maybe some day there will be a medication that can legitimately be called a “cure” for addiction. But right now we are simply misleading people and setting them up for failure.
In order to overcome addiction in the long run you have to do so much more than just overcome the daily cravings for your drug of choice. You must consider your life physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially, and then fix your issues in all of those major areas. You must do the work, identify your pain points, and work hard to eliminate them. You must ask for help and take advice and humble yourself enough to really follow directions. And you have to keep doing these things, over and over again, for the first year or two of your recovery journey.
This is just a baseline to get you started in recovery. If you want to maintain sobriety in the long run then it takes even more work on top of this. You cannot be complacent in recovery and expect to do well. You cannot stop pushing yourself to have new learning and growth experiences and expect to remain sober. It takes willingness, dedication, and persistent effort over a long period of time.
And you just cannot get this from taking a pill every day. You cannot rebuild your life and fix your issues and identify all your triggers just by popping a magic pill. Addiction is infectious in such a way that it completely alters so many different areas of your life. It takes over everything and when you stop drinking or putting drugs into your system all of those lifestyle changes can still remain. So you have to rebuild, you have to reinvent yourself, you have to relearn how to live a sober life.
This means you have to learn how to deal with stress, anger, and boredom–all while not resorting to your drug of choice. You have to relearn how to have fun again in sobriety. Can a magic pill help you to do that? Seems unlikely! Or rather, it seems that if a magic pill could actually fulfill some of these problems and issues then that pill would carry a risk of addiction.
The only shortcut to a new life in recovery is to painstakingly rebuild your own life, in sobriety, one day at a time. You may find a medication that makes that somehow easier to do, but that magic pill is not going to rebuild your life for you. The heavy lifting and the hard part is still going to be entirely up to you. And I think it is important to remember that when you are considering a medication that supposedly helps you to overcome addiction.