What is the best approach to drug addiction and alcoholism recovery? What is the best treatment program available to people?
These are important questions for anyone who is struggling with addiction (or for the families and friends of someone who is struggling).
There are a number of different programs out there that might help people. For example, the most popular by far is Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs that have followed in its footsteps. There are also religious based recovery programs that are based on faith. And there are a handful of alternative programs that do not use either of these two concepts, but rather are based on either therapy, behavioral approaches, medications, or some combination thereof.
So which one is the best approach? Could it be possible that it might depend on the individual who is trying to recover?
Proving the case using examples in recovery – what works for one will not work for all
If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you can tell that there is more than one way to get sober.
Unbelievably, there are people who deny this. For example, if you go to a dozen AA meetings, you will find at least a few people who truly believe that no one could possibly get sober using anything other than AA. They really believe that the 12 step program is the only valid approach that could possibly work in any situation.
The same can be true of other programs, such as religious based programs. There are many people who believe that only belief in a higher power could possibly save an alcoholic from total destruction, and that there is simply no other way. Anyone who has found a different approach to sobriety is simply deluding themselves, and they are actually depending on a higher power without realizing it.
Take a step back for a moment and look at these arguments. Then take a look at the evidence in front of you. As another example, there is a program of recovery for alcoholism and drug addiction that is based entirely on physical fitness. The entire program is:
1) Don’t use drugs or alcohol.
2) Work really hard every single day to get into shape.
Does this work for everyone?
Of course not! But it works for some people. Just as AA works for some people. Just as Christian based recovery works for some people.
If you are so blind that you cannot see the validity of various approaches to sobriety, then I consider you to be a mildly dangerous person. At the very least you might be cutting others off from a potential solution with your opinions about what really works in sobriety and what does not.
The problem with some people in recovery is that they have a serious bias after they get clean and sober. Whatever method finally worked for them in getting sober must be the only true method that could possibly work for anyone, ever. Why does this happen to us? I believe it happens because we struggle with our addictions for so long before we finally get that breakthrough.
The bottom line though is that you cannot expect for one recovery method to work for every alcoholic on the planet. If you want to help an alcoholic then you might need to be patient enough to find the right approach. Now I have heard many people argue against this idea and say things like “I had to surrender and be told what to do in order to get sober. If I was trying to design my own recovery program it never would have worked, because I just would have sabotaged my own efforts.”
This may true in some instances, but I believe the bigger problem is trying to squeeze thousands of square pegs into round holes. When I was struggling with my alcoholism the answer that I got from everyone was “just go to AA. That is your only hope.” In the end I was so desperate that I almost chose to self destruct rather than to face my fear of going to AA.
Some treatment centers use a hybrid approach or offer a choice to clients between treatment methods
There are some treatment centers out there that do offer a hybrid approach and allow their clients to pick the method that is better suited to their personal tastes. Obviously if you have religious based recovery then you cannot just force that on anyone who is hoping to get sober. On the other hand it is not always wise to do the same thing with AA and 12 step based recovery, even though the claim is of course that it is completely non-religious (many would debate this).
It is nice to have the choice in early recovery of what treatment method you will be using. At the very least having the choice will remove an excuse from the alcoholic.
The best treatment center teaches a long term holistic approach that remains flexible enough to suit various people
In my opinion the best approach to alcoholism recovery is a holistic approach.
This needs to be flexible enough to last for the rest of the alcoholic’s life, and powerful enough to keep them moving forward in the proper direction.
In recovery you are either doing one of two things: You are working on personal growth and taking positive action each day, or you are not. There is absolutely no in between these two extremes. If you think you have found a middle ground then you are in danger, because you are actually being complacent and will eventually tend towards relapse.
You are either making progress or you are sliding back towards relapse. There is no in between. If you stick around recovery for a few years then you can watch this unfold before your very eyes. Watch people in recovery and see if they relapse or not. The people who relapse will very clearly come back and tell you that they had stopped growing, that they had become complacent. They were not moving forward in their recovery. They were not making progress. This led to relapse.
The people who do not relapse are taking positive action every day. They are moving forward. They are doing good things. They are challenging themselves to grow in recovery. They are using a holistic approach.
Recovery is pass/fail. It is absolute. You are either drunk or you are sober. You cannot be “kind of drunk.” You cannot be “kind of sober.” Alcoholics don’t operate that way! You either stay sober or you drink. Nothing in between.
Therefore you can always look back at the progress (or lack thereof) that an alcoholic has made and see if they were taking positive action or not. You can tell how hard they were working on their recovery based on whether or not they remained sober. If they relapsed, then every single time you can ask them later and they will tell you that they had become complacent, that they had slacked off in what they were doing, that they had failed to follow through and take positive action every day. The inverse of this is true as well: Find someone who is successful in recovery, and ask them if they have been pushing themselves to take positive action every day. They will say that yes, they have been.
You might try to convince yourself that what I am saying is not true, that it is not really that black and white, or that cut and dry. But it is. I have been sober for over 12 years now and I have talked with hundreds of people who have relapsed. In every case they can describe to you what happened to them in terms of their downfall. They stopped taking action, they stopped challenging themselves to grow in recovery, and they became complacent. This led them to relapse.
Therefore we gain a special insight into what we really have to do in order to recover. We must maintain momentum. We must push ourselves to move forward. We must take action every day and turn that into a daily practice.
What your life in long term sobriety might be like
Your daily habits will define what you become in life.
Was this not true with your alcohol or drug addiction? Did not your daily habits with drugs and alcohol lead you to the point you are at now?
This can be reversed. The idea behind recovery is quite simple. Get clean and sober, then start building a more positive life for yourself. You can use a recovery program to guide you through this process, or you can just take action and do it yourself.
How do you know what positive actions to take? There are a number of ways to find your daily practice.
First of all you should start by going to treatment of some kind and getting professional help. This is a strong foundation if nothing else. They are not going to steer you wrong.
Second of all you should start talking to other people who are successful in recovery already. People who have years or decades of sobriety. What are they doing each day, how do they live their lives? What are their habits? What is their daily routine? What really keeps them sober?
If you go to lots of AA meetings then you will undoubtedly find people who have daily AA meetings as part of their daily practice. Just realize that if you explore recovery outside of AA, there are people who stay sober without incorporating daily 12 step meetings into their routine. This is not good or bad, it just simple varies. But realize if you go to meetings and talk to people you are going to get some self-selecting bias (everyone in AA will recommend AA!). But there are other paths to recovery, so long as they are based on taking daily positive action.
When I got clean and sober I lived in rehab for almost two full years. While I was there I had to go to AA meetings for much of the time. This was helpful on some levels but on another level it was holding me back. Eventually I left the meetings even though I was a bit conflicted over the decision.
It turned out to be the right path for me. That was over 10 years ago (when I left the meetings) and I am still sober today. But of course I did not just leave the meetings, I actually replaced them with other positive actions in my life. What I was doing is refining my daily practice. What am I going to do each day in order to recover? What actions am I going to take each day in order to build a new life of health and happiness in recovery? These are the questions that eventually led me to the holistic approach (rather then the spiritually focused AA approach). In the end you will want to do what works best for you, of course, and that might mean going to AA meetings every day for the rest of your life.
For me, it meant exploring different paths in recovery, and finding new actions that could help to strengthen my sobriety outside of traditional recovery norms (such as exercise, writing, online recovery, etc.).
If you are just getting clean and sober in recovery, my best suggestion for you is to go to treatment. Take suggestions from lots of people and try to follow through on what they tell you to do.
It may come as a shock to some people to learn that resentment is no longer the number one offender in recovery. Complacency is. This changes the game a bit and you need to think about how you are going to live sober on a day to day basis in recovery. After you get past the anger and the guilt and the shame in your life, how are you going to keep yourself moving forward in recovery? After you do the internal work (that the 12 steps take you through), how are you going to stay motivated to remain sober? You have to have another way to drive yourself to make progress.
In my opinion there are two levels of change in recover: Internal changes and external changes. In AA they focus on the internal stuff like shame, guilt, fear, anger, etc. But you also need to consider the external changes that might occur in your life: Jobs, relationships, exercise, managing stress, and so on. You need to make both types of changes in order to enjoy long term sobriety.
In order to avoid complacency in the future you will need to consider your daily practice. What is your routine? Does it push you to make positive changes every day? Does it push you to take positive action every day? If not, then you might want to tweak your daily practice a bit. Your habits will define your future self. You become what you do every day, so focus on taking positive actions each day.
People in AA meetings sometimes say “Life just keeps getting better and better in recovery!” This is true for some people but not for everyone. Why is that?
Because some people are working harder at it than others! If you don’t put in the effort then you will not reap the rewards. In order to feel joyful and exclaim that your life just keeps getting better, you are going to have to put in some work. You have to improve your life and your life situation every single day.
Just imagine what will happen over the next five years if you honestly push yourself every single day to improve:
1) Your life (internal stuff like shame, guilt, anger, fear, etc.)
2) Your life situation (eliminate toxic relationships, get a less stressful job, fix your finances, etc.)
3) Your health (not just your physical health, but your holistic health. Emotional balance, proper nutrition, relationships, everything).
If you honestly work at improving all three of these areas on a consistent basis for the next few years, then your life will become incredible. You won’t even be able to imagine or predict how good things will be for yourself in a few years. The transformation that you go through will be so complete that you will look back a few years and say “I never would have been able to predict that this is how things would end up, but I love my life today!”
This is the power of the daily practice. This is the power of positive habits, multiplied out over several years. Three years is a thousand days. That is a long time. Just imagine if every single day for the next thousand days you are continuously improving yourself and your life situation. There is no possible way that you can predict how this positive trend will end up rewarding you.
How can a rehab center teach long term sobriety strategies?
Is it possible for a rehab center to teach this holistic approach to recovery?
Yes and no.
The problem is that when you are going through detox and you are in residential treatment for 28 days or less, you are not exactly in a position to start using the holistic approach just yet.
Quite honestly, there is a time for narrow focus and there is a time to broaden your horizons. Early recovery is not the time to broaden your horizons. It is the time to focus on staying sober, one day at a time.
Some people get stuck there though. They grab on to the narrow focus that they find in treatment and in AA, and they never let go of it. They never branch out. They never learn how holistic health can be a form of relapse prevention. Instead they cling to the idea that if they just find their higher power then everything will turn out rosy. This may or may not be true depending on all of the factors discussed thus far in this article. Remember, you are either moving forward in recovery or you are headed towards relapse. It is very possible to be quite spiritual in recovery and find yourself becoming complacent anyway due to a lack of personal growth.
If there is one thing that rehab centers might teach their clients it is that you must evolve in your recovery. Your daily practice is not going to look the same at 30 days sober as what it will look like when you have 10 years sober. If those two things look the same then something is wrong and the person is stuck. At the very least they are in serious danger of relapse due to complacency.
The best program of recovery is the one that works for you. For some people this might be AA, for other sit may be religious based recovery, and for others it might be something else entirely. The key is to look at your daily practice and what positive habits you have established to move you forward in your sobriety.
What about you, what do you think the best approach to recovery is? How have you been successful in sobriety? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!