August 13th, 2018

Recovery is Possible with Healing Relationships

Recovery substance abuseWhy some people recover from addictions, while others do not, has puzzled me for years. My formal medical training “taught” me that such recovery was not possible – supposedly because addicts were too psychologically disturbed to benefit from psychotherapy. Furthermore, medications and surgical procedures, so helpful in treating other diseases, failed to produce sustained improvement when used for addictions. However, healing relationships can make all the difference.

When, to my surprise, I learned that recovery was actually possible, I saw it occur in rehab programs and the recovery support community. There, neither individual psychotherapy nor medications – generally considered to be the pillars of effective treatment of behavioral disorders – were part of the treatment. That is when I began to believe that perhaps the key element in what helps addicted people get better is the healing relationships that they formed with other people, particularly with people already in recovery.

As much as I find Antabuse and buprenorphine to be helpful in treating addictions, and as critical as I am of treatment programs that refuse to offer these medications to their patients, I very much disagree with those in the addiction treatment community who consider medications to be the primary intervention and psychosocial interventions to be secondary. This last view appears to be based on a narrow conception of addiction as being a “brain disease” rather than a complex bio-psycho-social disorder. Similar to the way in which anesthesia can support but not replace surgery, medication can be useful in supporting the difficult process of recovery – important, but still secondary.

The people who I meet at the start of their treatment uniformly suffer from an emotional and psychological isolation which can be hidden beneath a surface of apparently rich interpersonal relationships. The resulting feelings of hopelessness, distrust, and negative self-concepts become self-perpetuating forces that trap the person in an emotional prison of active addiction. When the person enters the healing environment of the treatment program or community recovery group, a key is figuratively placed in the lock of the prison. Actually making the personal connection with another addict already in recovery represents the turning of the key so that the addiction prison door can be unlocked and opened. Treatment professionals can facilitate these healing relationships.

Because I have seen people recover from their addiction in many different ways, I think that it is important for treatment programs to offer any intervention that has a reasonable chance of being useful. We do this at Kolmac, but always regard relationships as the cornerstone on which all other interventions rest.

Contact us to learn more about the healing relationships at Kolmac.

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