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Reducing the stigma of addictions – the power of group work

There is still a large proportion of addicts who refuse to seek help due to being stigmatised, or even vilified. Chances are, you are very close to someone – a friend or a family member – who is affected in some way by addiction, so why don’t we want to see it as a society?

Rather than concentrating on the statistics of addiction – how many deaths, how much it costs the tax payer each year – we should be reducing the shame and making it easier for those struggling to take that first step to recovery. Stigma and shame can protect the addiction but the earliest intervention possible is essential.

What can cause an addiction?

It is important to remember that addictions do not discriminate. When attempting to spot the signs and symptoms of a patient who might be trying to hide their illness remember, anyone can be affected. Addictions do not care who you are, what you do, where you went to school, how much money you earn, what gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social class or age you are.

Moreover, addiction is not a choice or a lack of willpower – it’s a disease, one that cannot be cured but one from which can be recovered from.

Addiction was originally classified by the medical profession as a disease simply so a course of treatment could be determined. There is endless research and countless theories into what makes an addict an addict. This often includes factors such as:

  • Environmental
  • Learned behaviour
  • Experience of trauma
  • Genetics
  • Neurological impacts
  • Nature
  • Nurture
  • Automaticity or habitual influences

How can you begin to help in a GP consultation?

  • Don’t just work with symptoms or behaviours but take time to listen and understand your patient
  • Help patients to challenge their negative self-belief
  • Make them feel comfortable and ensure they know they will not be judged or rejected
  • Give them information on what treatment is out there

The power of group work

Receiving therapy and treatment for addictions in a group setting is a great way to reduce the feelings of guilt and shame associated with the illness. It is a way for people to interact with those going through a similar experience and patients quickly realise they are not alone.

Most addicts will think that they are the only ones that have felt like they do, and that they are alone in their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Some will even feel wrong for having feelings in the first place because of what they have been conditioned to think and feel, compounding a belief that they are hopeless and helpless to change. However, through sharing with others they can begin to get an identity; they begin to feel that they are not alone and by hearing someone who may be further down the recovery road in treatment than them, they slowly get the hope and strength they need to believe that recovery is possible.

Also, it is often hard for an addict to admit their issues to close family and friends. The shame forces them to keep it a secret and the stigma attached to the condition can often conjure up more extreme images of alcoholism than necessary, causing panic and worry. However in group therapy, it can be a lot easier to share one’s thoughts to those who can truly empathise.

A 28-day inpatient programme is an important treatment option for those who cannot manage their addiction in the ‘real world’. It is a way of breaking that psychological dependence and ridding oneself of any temptation. 28-day addiction treatment programmes such as the ones offered across Priory’s nationwide network, makes recovery and long-term abstinence possible.

28-day programmes with foundations based on the Minnesota Model of 12-step recovery, such as Alcohol Anonymous (AA), find their power in group work. It provides an environment where addicts can share openly and honestly.

Treatment involved in group work

  • Psychoeducational workshops – giving participants the tools to understand their own thinking and behaviours which can I turn contribute to their relapse prevention plan
  • Education around the neuroscience of addiction, giving greater understanding of triggers, automaticity and the neuroplasticity of the brain
  • Education around family systems, co-dependency, and enabling behaviours and boundaries, to aid participants in identifying high-risk situations
  • Cognitive behavioural and dialectical behavioural informed therapy – this is specifically useful for participants that may also suffer from anxiety or depression as well as those with certain personality disorders. This therapy provides tools and healthy coping strategies to help the patient counteract their negative approach.

What can Priory offer?

Priory has a nationwide network of hospitals which offer a 28-day addiction treatment programme, including medically assisted detoxification. As well as therapy and treatment noted above, Priory centres such as Life Works, also have more bespoke and specific programmes such as sex addiction treatment which can take place with the partner of the client, as part of their recovery process and treatment. 

Life Works for example, also includes the family in the client’s recovery process by running two-day family programmes while clients are in treatment. This can sometimes mean three or four families working in a group together with the clients during one programme. This can be incredibly beneficial as addiction is often referred to as a family illness where all involved have been taken hostage by the addiction. Therefore, it makes sense that when someone comes into treatment, open and honest communication can take place without the fear of what could have gone before, such as rejection or abandonment, when previously challenged.

Life Works refers to itself as a community because treatment heavily focuses on inclusion for all and when our clients finish their programme, we encourage them to continue to engage with the fellowships, for an ongoing support network.

For some that may need further support and structure beyond an aftercare provision, Priory also provides secondary care as well as ongoing one-to-one therapy which often reassures patients and makes the process less daunting.

For less acute patients, our hospitals have support from nearby wellbeing centres which provide outpatient therapy packages for addictions.

Download our support leaflet to provide your patients with further information and advice that they can take away with them.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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