Substance addiction is a complex illness characterized by powerful and, at times, irresistible cravings, along with compulsive substance seeking and use. Although the path to addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking a substance, the desire to seek and use drugs becomes uncontrollable with persistent use.

It’s no stretch to say that a truly addicted person needs alcohol and/or drugs just like a normal person needs food and water to feel normal. In fact, substances become paramount to everything else including food and water in the case of substance use disorders (addiction).  

Treatment is often ineffective, as addiction infiltrates many aspects of a person’s life. For genuine recovery to take root, a complete life change is often necessary. This includes changing an addicted person’s hometown, friends, profession, diet and mental/emotional/spiritual constitution. Researchers across the globe are tirelessly seeking treatment methods that will help more people adopt and maintain substance-free lifestyles.

Not to get political, but with passage of the Affordable Care Act, access to inpatient treatment programs became even more difficult. Health insurance companies found a loophole in the law allowing them to deny claims for substance abuse treatment at record rates.

With access to 30 days of inpatient treatment proving more difficult, and research suggesting 90 days of treatment for a substantial chance at sustained recovery, it’s no wonder relapse is the norm.

Looking towards the future, those of us providing residential recovery programs hope science delivers more weapons in the war against addiction.

Immunotherapy – a Promising Possibility

One emerging area of interest in the biological treatment of substance addictions is immunotherapy. Researchers create vaccines that cause the immune system to attack addictive substances in the bloodstream, thwarting the pleasurable response before drugs enter the brain. Although vaccines for substance addictions appear promising, more research is needed to answer questions about the safety and efficacy of such treatments.

Incredibly, there’s no funding for vaccines. While there’s plenty of money to research and develop drugs like Viagra and Cialis, or pain killers like Oxycodone, or strong narcotic benzodiazepines like Xanax, a recently developed heroin vaccine cannot capture funding necessary for development.