Most people who come to alcohol and drug addiction treatment centers have been able to stop using on their own, but have not been able to stay stopped. This tendency to relapse can be very discouraging to the affected person as well as those involved in trying to help. Alcoholics Anonymous advises perseverance: keep coming back to meetings and do the recovery work that has been effective for so many others.
Unlike 12-Step Fellowships, however, most professional addiction treatment programs, which are also group-based, struggle with the dilemma that the repeated relapses of a few have a negative impact on other patients. When the program response is to discharge the patient from treatment, the understandable criticism is that the patient is being rejected for displaying the symptoms for which they sought treatment. Furthermore, being discharged in this way can push patients past feelings of discouragement into a state of hopelessness.
At Kolmac, we have developed a new treatment approach for this situation. Rather than discharge these patients with a referral to residential programs as we had done in the past, we have designed a specific clinical track that allows us to continue to work with these individuals. After a year and a half of refining this model, we are seeing positive results with people for whom recovery previously seemed unattainable.
An essential element in the design of this new track is that the relapse patients are grouped together and meet separately from the rest of our patients. While this was initially done to protect the other patient group from the disruptive effect of repeated relapses, the new arrangement had the benefit of allowing us to design treatment to fit the needs of the relapsing group, as well as to provide a milieu in which there was greater tolerance of and compassion for one another’s struggles.
I have been very encouraged by the progress that I have seen, particularly because these are people who have not done well in our program in the past despite everyone’s best efforts. In our traditional treatment track, we have found that about half of our patients have significant psychiatric issues that complicate the treatment of their addiction. One of our central discoveries in our relapse track is that almost all of these patients have such issues and addressing them effectively is critical to allowing them to finally move into recovery. In future articles. I will write more about the specifics of what we are finding.