Understanding addiction and the recovery journey
Sarina Wheatman, delves into the psyche of someone living with addiction and provides tips to assist GPs when having conversations with their patients.
The practising alcoholic or addict lives in a state of perpetual denial. This denial can be infuriating for those who are close to the individual, who often can’t make sense of the behaviour of their loved one. When a person with addiction issues decides or is persuaded to get help, it is usually because of some sort of crisis.
The myth of choice
Many people believe that the behaviour that is seen in someone with addiction issues is a matter of choice; that the alcoholic or addict could choose not to use, therefore the resulting chaos and devastation is assumed to be one of morals or simply that the addict does not care. This could not be further from the truth; most people with addiction issues who come into treatment have extremely low self-esteem and are, in fact, very ashamed and accustomed to being judged by everyone, including themselves.
The denial, which is a protective mechanism as well as an enabler for the dysfunctional behaviour, has to stop and be broken down, in order for reality and the truth to be seen and for recovery to begin.
The process of seeing ‘the truth’ starts to happen as soon as the addict takes their first step towards treatment.
Our interactions with them as addiction treatment professionals, the environment in which they seek treatment, as well as everything associated with treating this disease, is exceptionally important.
Addiction teams go to great lengths to ensure that patients are exposed to respectful and caring treatment, as well as peaceful and lovely surroundings.
As well as offering an ideal environment, treatment involves boundaries and an emphasis on reducing and removing destructive behaviours and attitudes associated with treatment.
Managing the disease
We believe, as most 12-Step facilities do, that addiction is an illness. Without education, treatment and ongoing focus, addiction will never move from its destructive phase into something that can be managed.
In order to manage it, the individual has to embark upon a complete overhaul in terms of body, mind and spirit.
We focus on the following factors when helping people to manage their addiction:
- Nutrition – we discuss the benefits of certain food and drinks, and what should be avoided
- Sleep hygiene – many people who come into treatment need to re-learn how to care for themselves in this area
- Yoga, meditation and acupuncture, as well as emotional freedom technique are therapies that we recommend and are all designed to promote calmness
Abstinence is the key to recovery, and therapy teaches our patients how to achieve this and stay focused.
The majority of individuals seeking treatment for addiction, also present with other mental health issues; depression, anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other serious mood disorders are common diagnoses alongside addiction.
It is difficult to make a complete and thorough diagnosis whilst patients are still under the influence of alcohol or drugs. An individual may have a dual diagnosis which would need to be addressed with medication and/or therapy, but the emphasis whilst in an Addiction Treatment Programme is on the addiction. The explanation for this is that unless the addiction is addressed and managed, everything else that is also being addressed will be sabotaged.
Bespoke approach to recovery
It is not unusual for individuals to discover that they have come into treatment for an addiction, only to discover that there are more areas that need to be considered in their recovery. This is why we offer bespoke treatment programmes that have been specifically designed to tackle an individual’s addiction, as well as other areas that need attention. We do not have a ‘one size fits all’ mentality and understand that recovery can be as diverse as the people who come into treatment.
Including family in treatment
A treatment centre that does not consider the impact of addiction on an individual’s whole family would not be doing its job properly. Patients’ family members can be included throughout treatment in the following ways:
- Encourage interaction with family members and loved ones from very early on
- Encourage loved ones to write letters describing what it was like for them living alongside the illness. These letters are used very sensitively, as another denial-busting exercise
- Provide a family support hotline and encourage loved ones to access it when needed
- Offer family members further information and education about addiction
- Deliver family support groups which are run specifically for loved ones
Tips for GPs and other general medical practitioners
The journey to recovery, and particularly taking the first steps towards treatment, can be an extremely difficult time in someone’s life. Alcoholics and addicts habitually lie or are ‘conservative’ about the extent of their alcohol or drug consumption. They present in a GP surgery with a range of illnesses and tend to not relay exactly what, or how much, is being used. It can be exasperating for a busy GP to sift the truth from the fiction. If you suspect that drugs and/or alcohol are the problem, the following advice is recommended:
- A free addiction assessment can often be the mirror that an individual needs in order to see their behaviour more objectively and come to terms with the fact that they have an addiction problem
- Being non-judgemental and impartial may get to the truth quicker. Most alcoholics or addicts are terrified of being judged, so they lie out of self-preservation and the fear of consequences
- Being a source of information – stay well informed about your local addiction treatment facilities. Priory has treatment facilities throughout the country
- Having an understanding of the treatment that is available and what it entails
- Identify any co-existing factors e.g. mental illness