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Yale Study Considers Treating Addiction as Chronic Disease

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According to a new Yale study, addiction is a chronic disease that is treated like an acute illness. But what if we treated it differently, with longer-term goals? 

Ellen Edens, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, wants to think about treating addiction like any other chronic illness. "The way we think about chronic disease model, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis or cholesterol, for that matter, is we don't send someone away to a program to get that fixed and then assume that they can just swim," she said.

But Edens said that is exactly what we do with addiction. People living with substance abuse often go away to a 28-day treatment facility. She argues that there could be another, equally effective way.

In a study published earlier this fall in Connecticut Medicine, the journal of the state's medical society, Edens and her coauthors say people who got that kind of extended treatment at home -- with regular clinical visits throughout the week over the course of a year -- fared well.

"It was really quite remarkable," Edens said. "Four of the five participants maintained complete abstinence over the course of the year as measured by frequent, random urine toxicologies."

Edens said her study isn't proof: the sample size was small, and there was no control group. So, while she doesn't want to overstate her conclusions, she does hope that researchers and clinicians try to better match the treatment of addiction with the chronic nature of the disease itself.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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