Critical Components of Addiction Recovery

To state the obvious, addiction is a very difficult disease
to place in remission. For over fifty years alcoholism
and drug addiction have been treated with various
methods and with inconsistent success. Recent identification
of physiological aberrations in the addict’s
brain combined with advancements in psychosocial
treatment techniques have improved treatment success
rates significantly. With the current understanding
of what appears to work well for Patients battling the
disease of addiction, there are several identified critical
components of addiction recovery.

As with most diseases, the Patient must engage in the
treatment regimen. This is most important with treating
addiction because the disease of addiction impacts
three key areas of the individual’s health. Physiologically,
the Patient’s brain undergoes genetic coding changes
and mutations of neuroreceptors within the pleasure
center of the brain. Psychologically, the symptoms of
addiction include narcissism, impaired decision making
capabilities, cognitive and emotional distortions,
codependency, and various other impairments. Quite
often Patients with addictions also have mental health
disorders as well; depression, post-traumatic stress disorder,
bi-polar disorders, and personality disorders are
common. Lastly, the sociology of the Patient is impacted
by addiction. A lack of community and belonging
combined with a loss of human and spiritual connection
accompanies the disease.

One of the most critical components of effectively
treating addiction includes the individualized approach
to the Patient’s needs. All Patients are different with
regard to the impact that the disease has had on their
physiology, psychology and sociology. It is necessary
for the treatment approach to be individualized for
all three of these aspects of the disease. Additionally,
there may be mental health or other physical health
needs that need treatment simultaneously. In general,
a combination of medical, psychological and sociological
clinicians are required to work with the engaged
Patient for a significant amount of time. Research has
clearly shown that Patients begin to make rapid progress
in the recovery process after no less than three
months of treatment, and the longer the treatment
the better the results. The considerable impact that
length of treatment has on the results for the Patient
is directly linked to the time necessary for the brain
to reconstruct and for the Patient’s mind to exit postacute
withdrawal and progressively engage with more
advanced treatments as they become well.

Another critical component of effectively treating
addiction includes abstinence and/or pharmacotherapies
while in treatment. While abstinence from all
mood-altering addictive substances in preferred for the
Patient, there are some people that cannot be successful
without pharmacotherapies to assist them while
engaged in treatment. Abstinence is preferred due to
the requirement that the pleasure center of the brain,
the nucleus accumbens, can reconstruct itself into a
state of homeostasis. Without abstinence, the brain
continues to function under the influence and much of
the learning and processing power of the brain is lost
as a result. However, there is a population of individuals
seeking recovery that have brain function that
simply cannot endure complete abstinence. With this
population, it is necessary to carefully medicate them
so they have a chance at engaging in treatment without
continually relapsing due to heightened craving
symptoms. It is extremely important to note that pharmacotherapy
requires carefully controlled medications
combined with appropriate therapy to be effective.

Many Patients also have the misfortune of being
afflicted with mental illness in addition to their addiction.
Treatment for these individuals is more difficult
because the mental illness needs to be treated simultaneously.
However, it can be very challenging for the
treatment professionals to identify what the primary
causes of the symptoms are due the possibility that
the mental illness may be a primary illness or a secondary
symptom of the addiction. Specialists in treating
co-occurring disorders are required to provide expert
treatment: experts may include a team of psychiatrists,
therapists and counselors. Non-addictive medications
are often prescribed for mental illness and can be very
effective in creating a scenario in which the Patient can
engage in treatment.

Another critical component of effectively treating addiction
includes people other than the Patient. While it
is mission critical that the Patient develop an appropriate
clinical support team, it is also critical to the Patient
to have a healthy family support system and a recovery
fellowship in place. In the experience of this writer,
the number one and number two reason why people
relapse is due to unhealthy love relationships and
unhealthy family relationships, respectively. Addiction
is often called a family disease, and while not clinically
accurate, the phrase is pertinent to the reality that unhealthy
family systems can often destroy the progress
made by the Patient in treatment. Sometimes there
may not be a family system in place for the Patient, or
the family system may be so unhealthy that it is not
practical to expect any wellness. In these instances,
Patients often need to seek surrogate family systems in
close friends or extended family.

Fellowship is another part of the support equation for
the Patient. Fellowship means regular interaction with
others that are in recovery from the disease of addiction.
Because addiction leaves the Patient feeling very
alone and with a great deal of loss, it is by interacting
with others that can relate to the Patient’s experiences
that healing takes place. Fellowship brings a sense of
community and humanistic bonding for the Patient.
This type of connection develops a spiritual sense of
belonging which, over time, helps to fill the void that
many addicts experience within their quality of life.

The final critical component of addiction recovery that
this article will explore has to do with intrinsic functions
and characteristics of the Patient. Accurate thought
and understanding is a primary concern for all those in
recovery from addiction. Acute withdrawal and postacute
withdrawal cause symptoms of confusion, difficulty
in problem solving, and distorted perceptions of
reality. For treatment to be effective, these symptoms
must be addressed in real time. Clinicians are trained
to assist Patients through these difficult symptoms as
long as the Patient can accept that their thinking and
emotional state is not normal. This requires Patient
openness in order to hear alternative and conflicting
viewpoints, and to consider these viewpoints as more
accurate than their own experience.

Because narcissism is a symptom of addiction, it can be
very difficult for the Patient to set aside their self-will
and stubbornness in order to absorb the potential of a
more accurate interpretation of reality than their own
interpretation. It is with humility that the Patient can
begin to understand just how much their quality of life
has been impacted by the disease of addiction. When
acceptance finally comes, the Patient realizes that the
disease has taken from them far more than they may
have believed. A great sense of loss follows, and with
that loss comes grieving. Eventually the Patient grows
to have a willingness to understand their new found
world, to become self-aware, and to rebuild a quality of
life that will provide them with happiness and joy.

While there are most certainly additional critical components
of addiction recovery for every individual
Patient, the aspects described above are universal in
their application. The complexity of the disease of
addiction requires a holistic approach to treatment and
recovery for the Patient. Recovery is far more than just
abstinence, it is a universal approach to creating wellness
within the Patient. Physiology, psychology and
sociology must all be taken into account when trying
to develop a long-term high quality of life without