The term “Chemical Dependency” is often used in conjunction with and at times interchangeably with the terms: chemically dependent, chemical dependence, alcoholism, addiction, substance abuse, substance dependence, drug habit, and drug addiction.
For our purposes, the term chemical dependency, refers to a primary illness or disease which is characterised by addiction to a mood-altering chemical. Chemical dependency includes both drug addiction and alcoholism (addiction to the drug alcohol). A chemically dependent person is unable to stop drinking or taking a particular mood-altering chemical despite serious health, economic, vocational, legal, spiritual, and social consequences. It is a disease that does not see age, sex, race, religion, or economic status. It is progressive and chronic and if left untreated can be fatal.
When a person is chemically dependent, they have lost the power of choice over using mood-altering chemicals. They may be able to stop for awhile, but they will return to its use again and again despite their best intentions and exertions of logic and willpower. For these reasons, chemical dependence (alcoholism and drug addiction) is said to be a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.
Chemical dependency is characterised by continuous or periodic: impaired control over drinking and/or drug use (prescribed or illegal), preoccupation with the mood-altering chemical, use of the addictive substance despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking–most notably denial.
For our purpose denial is a defense mechanism that includes a range of psychological maneuvers designed to reduce awareness of the fact that alcohol and drug use is the cause of an individual’s problems rather than a solution to those problems. Typically an alcoholic or addict is the last to admit that they may have a drinking or drug abuse problem. Denial becomes an integral part of the disease process of chemical dependency, a major obstacle to recovery, and a precipitous factor in relapse events. Denial, is the cunning, baffling, and powerful part of chemical dependency that tells the addicted person that they do not have a problem. If a chemically dependent individual is “in denial” about their alcoholism and addictions they cannot become engaged in a recovery process. One cannot work on a problem unless they accept that it exists.
Though the disease can’t be cured, it can be arrested and treated (kept in remission). The disease is far more complex than the mere use and abuse of mood-altering chemicals and recovery is far more complex then just becoming abstinent. Unfortunately, many addicts and alcoholics believe that if they can just get drug and alcohol free they will be o.k. and can turn their life around. Detox alone is rarely enough. In order to maintain abstinence one must make personal, interpersonal, and lifestyle changes. These take time– in fact, most professionals and recovering addicts and alcoholics believe that recovery from the disease of chemical dependency is a life-long process.
Since chemical dependence is a primary disease, successful treatment requires it to be treated as such. In the case of a dual diagnosis, an individual may have started using mood-altering chemicals to cope with or mask the pain of a psychiatric illness. The chemicals they used may have provided some temporary relief but did nothing to correct their basic emotional problems. This is known as self-medication and can easily lead to addiction. However, treating the psychiatric illness does not cure the addiction. Conversely, treating the addiction will not cure the psychiatric illness. There are two distinct primary illnesses and each requires specific concurrent treatment. The Twelve Steps of Dual Recovery Anonymous and the support of Dual Recovery Anonymous meetings offer believable hope and practical ongoing peer support to those seeking help and healing with dual disorders.
It is not our intention to give a full or scientific explanation of any of these terms. Chemical dependency, addiction, and denial, are very complex subjects upon which countless books have been written and many views are held. Our information is a general overview given primarily for the lay person to help clarify terms used in the context of this web site and their own dual recovery. An individual is in dual recovery when they are actively following a program that focuses on their recovery needs for both their chemical dependency and their psychiatric illness.
Note: Some individuals in dual recovery must take certain medications that can have a potential for abuse or physical dependence. These medications, when properly prescribed and taken precisely as directed, can be an important tool in controlling psychiatric symptoms and may be crucial to an individual’s dual recovery and well-being. We use every caution with our medications and understand that at times, there just isn’t another option available to us. Our doctor’s know best. We are rigorously honest with our doctors and treatment professionals in regards to our dual illnesses and our history of chemical dependency. When we take these medications in accordance with our doctor’s advice and our recovery plans they do not interfere with our sobriety or “clean time.” Dual Recovery Anonymous recognizes that psychiatric medications are used for the purpose of managing psychiatric symptoms and are not taken for the purpose of achieving a “high”. Therefore, the use of properly prescribed psychiatric medications is not considered to be the same as relapse. (see medications and recovery)