An addiction can come in many forms. Some people are addicted to alcohol. Others develop addictions to drugs. Still others develop addictions to sex or gambling. Put all of these people in a room together and they might think they have nothing in common. However, there is one thing that can be said about all of these people – they have the ability to get better. While addictions are serious, and living with an addiction can be incredibly difficult, recovery is possible through the help of addiction rehab programs.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovery from an addiction can be defined as follows: “A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.” There are a few important concepts tucked away in this sentence that are important to highlight.
Firstly, note that addiction recovery is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it may continue to evolve throughout the person’s life. This aspect of recovery is included in many different parts of an addiction program. For example, 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous require addicts to accept the fact that they are “powerless” over the substances they abuse. In this model, the addict must work the program, just one day at a time, and try to keep a relapse from occurring in that individual day. In a similar vein, medical experts, such as a physician writing for the journal Addiction, suggest that many addictions are chronic conditions that can only be managed and not cured. Just as a doctor can’t give a patient a pill and cure diabetes, a therapist can’t provide a treatment and completely cure a drug addiction. Once again, the implication is that addiction is ongoing, and only through hard work on a daily basis can an addict truly heal. This idea of constantly monitoring the addiction, and staying alert, recurs in multiple aspects of addiction treatment.
Secondly, note that the addict has a strong role to play in this recovery process. While a person with a cold might passively accept the therapies given by the doctor, a person who needs addiction therapies has the ability to direct the therapies provided. In fact, the addict is expected to discuss what he or she wants out of recovery, and the addict is expected to be a vocal champion for his or her own health. It’s one way the person can take control away from the addiction, and it’s an important part of the healing process.
Developing a Program
The therapies provided in an addiction treatment program will vary significantly, depending on the addiction the person has, and the path the person took that led to the addiction. It’s obvious that someone addicted to online gambling would need different therapies than someone addicted to heroin. It might not be so obvious that a woman addicted to cocaine might need different therapies than a man addicted to cocaine, but that may well be the case. The therapy that works best must be tailored to meet the needs of that addict at that time.
At the beginning of any addiction treatment program, the addict is asked a series of questions, such as:
- Have you tried to quit before? What happened?
- Do you have family members and friends you can lean on in recovery?
- Is your physical health stable?
- Do you have a job?
- Do you have a safe place to live?
These questions can help addiction experts determine the best way to provide care. People with secure homes, dedicated family members, a steady job and good physical health may be able to accept outpatient therapies. They can live at home, and maintain their social ties, while they work on their addictions. People who are homeless, ill, frightened or alone might need an inpatient program instead, as their recovery at home might be fragile. This is a decision the addict makes in consultation with the therapist.
Some addicts need medications to help them recover. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who are addicted to heroin or prescription opiates like morphine benefit from medications like methadone and buprenorphine. These medications suppress cravings, allowing the addict to feel relaxed and centered while undergoing addiction therapies. Similarly, people addicted to alcohol or nicotine might also benefit from medications. While not all addicts need to take medications during recovery, some addicts do benefit, and this is an issue the addict and the therapist discuss during the planning process.
People with addictions may engage in what therapists call negative self-talk. They may tell themselves things like, “I’m stupid,” or “I’ll never get ahead,” or “I always make mistakes.” Often, according to an article published in the magazine Psychology Today, these phrases have their roots in deep trauma the person experienced as a child. Perhaps the person heard these phrases from an abusive parent, for example, or perhaps relentless taunting from peers put these phrases into motion. When these phrases appear, the mind begins to send out signals of distress, the addict begins to feel worried or depressed and often, medicating with an addiction seems both reasonable and helpful.
Therapy aims to break this cycle. In cognitive behavioral therapy for addiction, the addict learns to identify this cyclical thinking, and stop the thought process before he or she is tempted to act upon it. This can involve role-playing, writing in a journal, testing theories or breaking down sentences into their component parts. It’s a new way of thinking for many addicts, and it can be incredibly powerful. For example, an article published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology found that people who had cognitive behavioral therapy for gambling addiction improved after the sessions were complete, and they held on to those gains in the months and years that followed. Similar results have been found in the best substance addiction programs.
Once again, however, cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t right for everyone. Some people resist the idea of revising the way they think, and others don’t have the mental energy required to complete all the activities this form of therapy demands. These addicts might benefit from other therapies, such as:
- Motivational therapy. The addict is asked to think about why he or she wants to change, and what he or she could be doing to make that change.
- Family therapy. For some addicts, the addiction had its start in a dysfunctional family. If the whole group can come together and discuss the issue, it’s possible that the whole group can change and the addict can heal with the help of the group.
- Contingency management. Here, the addict is asked to prove that he or she has not engaged in the addiction prior to the therapy session, and if the addict can provide that proof, the therapist delivers a reward.
- Mental health therapy. For people with other mental illnesses, such as personality disorders, therapies must be tailored to meet the needs of both conditions at the same time.
Any of these therapies can be beneficial in helping the addict change behavior. Some therapists use only one form of therapy, while others use bits and pieces of all methods, depending on the addict’s needs.
The Role of Community
For some addicts, meeting other people who are also going through recovery can be an incredibly powerful experience. It can help reduce isolation, and it can help the addict pick up techniques from peers that he or she may not have access to while in the therapist’s office. As mentioned, 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous, can all help addicts understand the chronic nature of their conditions, and they can help addicts meet others who share their experiences. This model has been proven to work in a variety of settings. For example, according to an article in the journal Addiction, alcoholics who participated in Alcoholics Anonymous for three years were more likely to be sober than those who did not. It seems to be a model that many people use to maintain their addiction success over the long term.
Those who dislike the 12-step model, or who can’t find a meeting in their community at a convenient time or place, can also benefit from participating in groups that are held by churches or colleges. Or, they can attend meetings in the SMART Recovery System, which doesn’t use overtly religious overtones. The important thing is to get involved and to attend. The type of meeting doesn’t seem to matter.
Some bloggers and pundits claim that addiction therapies aren’t effective because they must take place over a long time, and the addict must admit a sense of powerlessness. Does this mean that addiction therapies don’t truly “work”? Experts would say, emphatically, that this is not the case. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Association found that people who enter treatment programs for drugs and alcohol abuse do improve with treatment, and those benefits tend to last for six months or longer, in some people. While people who never enter treatment programs may have a slim chance of getting better, those who do ask for help tend to improve. In short, recovery truly is possible.
At Alta Mira, we’ve seen addicts recover from their addictions through hard work and dedication. We know recovery works because we’ve seen it. Please call us today to find out more about our programs.