What Works in Addiction Recovery?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that also causes psychological changes. Treatment of this condition is often prolonged, and multimodal.  To fully treat the individual, more than drug use should be addressed. Anyone living with the addiction will need well-rounded treatment including medication, psychological support, self-help groups, and much more.

It is a well-known fact that many of those treated for drug addiction relapse. Some treatment centers and clinics are claims to help in a few weeks or months. However, researchers warn that such centers are not based on science. In fact, some specialists think that centers making such claims to treat people in a specific timespan should be regarded as a form of medical malpractice. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process, but possible for most.

Where does the 12- step program fit into this picture? The 12-step program is a collection of self-help principles used by many communities. These principles are quite useful, but the only downside of these principles is that they discourage the use of drugs for the treatment of addiction. In some severe cases, supportive drug treatment is necessary.

Is relapse a failure? Is there hope for those who keep failing to give up drugs?

Medical specialists say that people who get treated for drug addiction and their families do not understand the meaning of relapse properly. Most people believe that if someone being treated for drugs, starts retaking drugs, that is a failure of treatment. However, it is not the case.

Relapse is not a treatment failure; it is just an indication to change treatment strategy. Since addiction is a chronic brain disease; relapse must be expected in many cases. Just take an example of diabetes or hypertension, a person is treated for them for a few weeks, and after some time he or she may see a worsening of the condition. What will the doctor and patient do in such a situation? Give up all the treatment efforts? Of course not. Both doctor and patient will try to change treatment strategy, its intensity, treatment will be refined till the complete remission is achieved.

Similarly, treatment of drug addiction must be continued until complete recovery. In case of relapse, the strategy must be changed. Experts warn not to see relapse as a failure of the therapy.

Research supported principles of addiction recovery

Here are some of the principles recommended by the National Institute on Drug abuse for addiction treatment and recovery:

  1. No single treatment work for everyone. Each person is different, with a unique set of problems. Thus, the treatment must be personalized. Some have psychological issues; others have problems with physical health.
  2. Addiction is a treatable chronic disease of the brain. It means that in addiction brain structure is altered. Thus, one needs combination therapy, relapses may occur, but treatment must continue. Even prolonged abstinence does not say that the person is cured.
  3. Treatment should not be delayed. As with any other chronic disease, earlier you start, better are the chances of recovery.
  4. Effective treatment does not treat just drug abuse. Right treatment tries to look into the various issues faced by the person his or her psychological problems, social life, job issues, and so on. Further, treatment must be adapted according to the ethnicity, cultural background, and gender of the person, and only that things work.
  5. A long-term approach to the treatment works. Addiction cannot be treated in a few weeks. Researchers say that at least three months of initial treatment is needed to make some recovery. However, for most people treatment must be continued for a much more extended period, and relapses must be taken just as a part of the process.
  6. Behavioral therapy in a group or along with family member is one of the things that work best. After all, drug addiction is also a habit, and one must be taught how to give up that habit. Such therapy teaches the skill to resist drug use. It also teaches to replace drug use with other mentally rewarding activities.
  7. Medications are necessary for many, along with psychological support. It is wrong to think that medical drugs hurt. They help recover more smoothly; they increase the chances of recovery when combined with behavior therapy.
  8. The recovery plan that keeps changing according to the needs of the patient works best. Since at every stage of recovery needs of the person recovering from addiction keep changing, thus the recovery strategy must adapt accordingly.
  9. Addiction recovery can only happen when other mental issues are treated too. People living with addiction may have multiple psychological problems. Those psychological issues may be the root cause of drug addiction. For example, someone may have started taking drugs to tackle social anxiety.
  10. Detoxification is just the first step. It helps to detoxify the body but does not help overcome drug abuse. It is wrong to think that once the body is detoxified, one can readily recover.
  11. Recovery treatment does not need to be voluntary. It is true that voluntary efforts work better, but pressures from society, parents, family members, legal bodies, may also help and motivate a person to recover.
  12. The person should be monitored for years after the initial recovery. Not only because relapses are frequent and monitoring helps adjust or restart intensive treatment early, but monitoring by family, doctors, caretakers, friends, discourages the person to start retaking drugs.

In short, addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, characterized by relapses. Fortunately, most can expect complete recovery with prolonged treatment and efforts.

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