There’s a saying among the Alcoholics Anonymous community that goes like this: Once an addict, always an addict. And this saying exists for good reason. Many people, including experts, believe that once a person has struggled with addiction, they will always be vulnerable to the illness even after many years of sobriety. In fact, by keeping this saying in mind, a person in recovery is more likely to remain diligent in their recovery.
However, not everyone feels this way. There are some people who trust themselves enough and who believe that they won’t fall prey to the temptations of drug or alcohol use again. After creating a new lifestyle, making new friends, and staying away from substances, they feel strong in their sobriety. And so, they may not feel like addicts any more.
So how can you tell whether you can be free of being addict or if it’s better to stay diligent for the rest of your life? It depends upon how well you know yourself. And it also depends upon what you believe about addiction. First, if you know yourself well enough and after a sufficient amount of time in recovery (likely years) and you find that you have absolutely no interest in drinking or drug use, then you might not consider yourself an addict anymore. However, one point to consider is that even though someone might be free of an alcoholic addiction, they might be at risk to developing other addictions, such as gambling or shopping.
Disease Theory of Addiction
For this reason, some experts believe in the disease model of addiction. In other words, professionals in the field of addiction and recovery believe that once a person has experienced addiction, their brain has been altered by the illness in such a way that they will always be vulnerable to the cycle that addiction creates. According to this theory, a person might be able to stop addictive behavior, but they will never be cured of the illness. They will always have to manage their tendency to feel cravings for substances and behaviors that bring them an experience of pleasure. In fact, some strong believers in this theory suggest that the illness of addiction can even get worse while a person is in recovery because they will always be at risk of relapse.
Although the disease theory of addiction is widely known, it is not entirely accepted by the general public. In fact, some medical doctors do not believe in addiction as an illness. Instead, there are some who believe in addiction as a process of learning poor coping mechanisms, behaviors, and thought patterns. And that recovery then is a process of unlearning. The Life Process model turns recovery into an experience of learning about life and that once a person changes certain environments, social contacts, and internal experiences, he or she can unlearn how to be an addict.
Ultimately, your experience of addiction and recovery is up to you. If you feel 100% sure that relapses, triggers, and cravings are behind you, then you’re likely safe to move beyond addiction once and for all. However, this isn’t the case for all recovering addicts. Some may need to stay diligent in their sobriety for the rest of their years.