What is Spontaneous Remission from Drug Addiction?

Spontaneous remission from drug addiction is a term that is rarely heard of outside of those who work or are deeply involved in the fields of substance abuse, addiction and alcoholism. This is because it is often misunderstood, is hard to quantify and can even be difficult to explain. In short, spontaneous remission from drug addiction refers to the phenomenon where an addict or alcoholic will summarily stop using or drinking without any type of treatment or forced sobriety such as incarceration or an inability to procure the addictive substance. Understanding this issue is important because while spontaneous remission is possible, it’s highly unlikely.

Spontaneous remission refers to alcoholics or addicts that achieve sobriety without attending groups, therapy, drug addiction treatment or alcohol rehab. Addiction and alcoholism are clinical, neurological and progressive diseases. Left untreated, these conditions are also often fatal. But just as is the case with other serious diseases, some people will experience spontaneous remission from addiction. In theory, these people are simply fed up with substance abuse or alcoholism and stop using outright. However, this phenomenon isn’t very well understood, and according to some, the rates of spontaneous remission depend on the severity and duration of the problem, and even the types of substances used:

“The limited prospective evidence suggests that “remission” from dependence may occur relatively frequently but rates may differ across drugs. There is very little research on remission from drug dependence; definitions used are often imprecise and inconsistent across studies and there remains considerable uncertainty about the longitudinal course of dependence upon these most commonly used illicit drugs.” (1)

But perhaps one of the most troubling issues with the concept of spontaneous remission is that it doesn’t provide any motivation for an addict or alcoholic to be proactive in their own recovery. If spontaneous remission were a common occurrence, then most addicts and alcoholics wouldn’t need to take action for their problem.

“People who just sit around and wait for an addiction to go away by itself will find that it only gets worse. Those who are successful in overcoming their addictions are the ones who decide that they have a bad habit, that they do not like their bad habit, and that they are determined to eliminate their bad habit. Having made a decision, these people then make a specific plan with specific strategies to combat the bad habit and then expend a sufficient amount of effort to make this plan succeed. Not everyone succeeds on the first try, but people who “try, try again” have far greater success rates than those who just give up.” (2)

Additionally, many drugs can be dangerous to detox from. This includes alcohol and benzodiazepine-class drugs such as Valium, among others. In fact, in some cases a non-medically supervised detox can result in death. Therefore, spontaneous remission is an interesting concept, but isn’t one that can be readily applied in the lives of those who suffer from alcoholism or addiction.

Finally, spontaneous remission from addiction is difficult to measure in any meaningful way because by the time most people finally get clean and sober, it’s likely that they have tried a number of different types of drug addiction treatment. Those who finally get clean on their own can’t therefore be said to have spontaneously went into remission, because there wasn’t anything spontaneous about the addiction, relapse and recovery learning process that led to the eventual long term recovery.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or alcoholism, the path to recovery isn’t a spontaneous one – it is one that requires hard work and commitment, and one that begins right now by picking up the phone. Call the number at the top of your screen and put what are widely considered the country’s most intensive traditional alcohol addiction treatment and drug rehab programs to work for your success now. Learn more about what to expect in inpatient addiction rehab.

(1) Calabria B; Degenhardt L; Briegleb C; Vos T; Hall W; Lynskey M et al. Systematic review of prospective studies investigating “remission” from amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine or opioid dependence. (review). Addictive Behaviors 35(8): 741-749, 2010. (47 refs.)

(2) Anderson, Kenneth Spontaneous Remission from Addictive Disease Is Not Spontaneous

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