Beating Drug Addiction and Alcoholism: Trends in Substance Abuse Therapy

Beating Drug Addiction and Alcoholism: Trends in Substance Abuse Therapy


There is a noticeable trend in the field of substance abuse therapy when it comes to beating drug addiction and alcoholism. This trend points towards treating addiction with medication. Here is a recent article from Time magazine that talks about “promising research” in developing injectable vaccines for drugs such as Cocaine, Methamphetamines, and Opiates.

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Imagine a time in the near future when babies or toddlers are given a catch-all substance abuse vaccine, protecting them from the potential ills of drug addiction for an entire lifetime. While this might sound like science fiction, the article from Time magazine gives the impression that such a vaccine could be FDA approved within a year’s time.

Pharmaceutical Research is on the Rise

The trend we are seeing in the medical and pharmaceutical community is a push for an easy solution to the problem of addiction. The problem of chemical abuse has proven to be a tough nut to crack, and the idea of fixing the entire problem through medication is indeed seductive. Our society has become geared towards instant gratification, so the medical approach to solving the drug problem appeals very much to the average substance abuser. Drug companies realize this, and the race is on to develop a medical cure for the various substance classes that people get addicted to: alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, and so on. One magic bullet that can significantly treat one of those drug classes can potentially engage an enormous market. This is no longer just about replacement therapies, such as with Methadone, as drugs are emerging that can reduce cravings. Or, in the case above, to block the effects of certain drugs altogether through the use of a vaccine.

Messing with Mother Nature

Using drugs to fight drug addiction can be a slippery slope, and no doubt some of these medical advances are worthwhile, but what about the future ramifications of vaccinating children against all of these chemicals? Some of these drugs also have justifiable medical use. For example, how would we manage severe chronic pain in the future if our children have been vaccinated from opiates? Or what if the long term effects of an opiate vaccination eventually weakens the effectiveness of non-opioid painkillers as well? Surely there is some risk in altering the way our body processes certain chemicals.

Apparently a Spiritual Solution is Simply Too Much Work

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Traditional twelve step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous don’t necessarily enjoy a tremendous success rate, but the spiritual solution provided by the 12 steps arguably offers a more fulfilling and lasting sobriety–once an addict finally “gets it.” Many people in recovery have commented that they struggled to find lasting sobriety within a twelve step program until the spiritual element finally “clicked” for them. For most recovering addicts and alcoholics, this spiritual solution is the only thing that really works for them in terms of maintaining any sort of long term sobriety. Medications are merely a patch-up approach to a problem that runs much deeper.

Many addicts, myself included, point out that they are grateful to be an addict, because this condition ultimately led them to a spiritual awakening in recovery. Had I not become addicted to drugs and alcohol, I might have floated through life with a minimal awareness, and never connected with my higher power in a meaningful way, or developed any sort of real faith. The gift of desperation leads to spiritual salvation.

trends in substance abuse
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A Typical Disclaimer: This Medication Requires Accompanying Therapy

As if in acknowledgment that pharmaceuticals almost never constitute a magic bullet, almost every pill out there that targets addiction includes the disclaimer “when taken in conjunction with group therapy or counseling.” My concern here is that a combining a pill with therapy is only enough to offer a short stint of sobriety, but not enough of a “complete life overhaul” to enjoy any kind of lasting changes. If a pill requires accompanying therapy in order for it to work, doesn’t that speak volumes as to the effectiveness of the treatment?

A Spiritual Experience Elicits a Lasting Change

The reason a spiritual experience offers lasting sobriety is because it embodies a complete change in personality. I finally overcame my addiction when I met it with overwhelming force and completely overhauled my entire life. I asked for help from other recovering addicts and started taking their suggestions to live a spiritual life. I also started praying, meditating, and seeking on a daily basis. This was not a small initiative on my part. I had to completely immerse myself in recovery and spiritual seeking. I was finally able to do this through the help of long term treatment. My personality shifted from complete self-centeredness to a genuine interest in other recovering addicts. This complete change in my personality has been essential to my ongoing sobriety.

Even though science might someday “cure” an addiction through the use of pills and vaccines, would this really be a desired outcome? I don’t want to discourage people from trying these new medications, but I question the quality of their resulting recovery, and wonder if it might turn into a trap of short lived sobriety. Instead of looking to pills as a quick fix, I think there is an opportunity for people to embrace the spiritual solution and thus change their lives on a much deeper level.

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Prediction: This Trend Towards Medication Will Continue

There are at least three groups of people who might prefer medical treatments for addiction and substance abuse instead of the more traditional spiritual solution.

1) Addicts and Alcoholics – the push towards instant gratification and quick fixes in today’s society have the youth of today preferring to take a softer and easier path when it comes to treatment

2) Pharmaceutical Companies – If there is a market for medication to treat addiction, then drug companies are sure to do the research in an attempt to meet the demand. Really, who can blame them?

3) The Treatment Industry – Administering a spiritual solution is not an exact science. Medication combined with behavior modification programs are much more “scientific” and the results are probably a bit easier to measure. Any medication that truly revolutionizes addiction treatments could greatly simplify the substance abuse industry.

What’s wrong with Combining Medication with Other Therapies – Such as the 12 Step Program?

Nothing, really….provided that people who use these new medications are still motivated to change their lives in a deep and meaningful way, so that they might achieve a real and lasting sobriety. The threat is that medications will become a convenience that traps people in a cycle of short lived sobriety and relapse. The quicker and easier a “fix” is, the more likely that it will become a shallow form of treatment that eventually leads people to relapse.

What do you think? Is medication a viable option for treating addiction? Or does it potentially distract from making real changes and finding meaningful sobriety?


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