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 characterized 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 characterized 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
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]