Does Addiction Treatment Work? Yes, if…

Addiction treatment isn’t a magical spell, although the results may surpass the magical, soaring into the miraculous. ‘Miracle’ is a commonly heard word in 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA). People will encourage newcomers to the groups to not leave until the miracle happens, for example. And, one has to wonder: has their experience been so powerful that only such a powerful word can approximate it in language? Those who use the word to describe their own recovery process will no doubt tell you yes, it has been exactly that powerful.

The core text used in Alcoholics Anonymous is known as the Big Book. It references the word ‘miracle’ 7 times. It says for example, about people in active addiction to alcohol there was an insistent yearning to enjoy life as we once did and a heartbreaking obsession that some new miracle of control would enable us to do it. (p 151). It is an apt description of the despair found in any addiction and the fear that only a miracle can save them. There is significant evidence in those groups alone that effort to recover do work.

While 12 Step programs are not technically addiction treatment, they are used by countless people to continue recovery after treatment. And, the numbers of people who remain in recovery using that support attests to their effectiveness. It causes one to wonder: how do so many people have such a peak experience that they describe it as miraculous? How do they put compulsive substance use, and all its chaos, behind them? If you look for themes and commonalities among their stories, there are certainly some that emerge as significant. Among these are a willingness to do the work before them, and to keep doing it. Hence, the caveat: yes, addiction treatment works if…

The Role of Willingness in Treatment and Recovery

There are absolutely many people, countless people, really, that fought recovery-oriented suggestions, and fought them hard, only to break through to a sustained recovery process. So, resistance alone, even tenacious resistance across several sobriety attempts, won’t necessarily keep you in active addiction. However, it seems that the willingness to ‘keep coming back’ as they say in 12 Step groups, is key. Despite the hard fight of resistance, people who fought treatment and recovery seem to be those that kept returning to try more, hoping something would work until it finally did.

The willingness to get going even when it is hard to, and even when it doesn’t make sense to, seems to work. There’s a great deal about addiction that doesn’t make ‘sense’ and really, when one is addicted, the brain and mind can’t make sense of much. But, it appears that yes,  treatment will work for you if you are willing to hang in there and take suggestions… if you are willing to keep going even when it seems pointless to do so. That can be a tough task, one that keeps revisiting, however. Often you’ll hear people who kept going despite times of despair, say they did so because they were sick and tired of being sick and tired. You’ll also hear people say they had no choice but to keeping trying, or that they just had to take action in faith because nothing else was working.

The Key of Honesty in Making Treatment Work

Honesty is not a ‘natural’ quality for most by the time they enter addiction treatment. The nature of addiction bends us into people who hide and conceal the true inner workings of our daily lives. Partly in shame and partly in a desire to avoid confrontation, we shrink away from exposure and disclosure to others. We feel particularly protective of our substance use and the ‘leisure’ to continue it without interference. And, it’s not always for the fun of it. More often, just prior to rehab especially, we cling to our substance use,  driven by desperation and the sense we cannot survive without it. Ironically too, at the point of surrendering to help, we also acutely feel that we cannot survive with substance use either.

Successful addiction treatment requires our honest efforts, and even concretely, the more honest information we give our care providers, the more effectively they can help us.  Honesty is a key that makes treatment and every other recovery effort before you work for you, too. For example, very concretely and on the physical level, our care givers need honest reporting of what substances we’ve use, how long, how frequently and how much. This best ensures an appropriate and medically safe withdrawal process, and in many cases, it is life-saving. Psychologically however, honesty also fuels the effectiveness of treatment for you, as well as every other recovery effort you make after. It seems vitally important to practice honesty if you want sobriety and if you want to keep it once you’ve detoxed.

At the core of an addictive process is denial and it is an powerful symptom, responsible for prolonged suffering in the lives of people with addictions, as well in the lives of their loved ones. Denial allows the addictive illness to unfold, and to keep unfolding, without any awareness that we need to stop using because use is hurting us. Denial prevents the reality of an addicted life from seeping into our conscious minds. We can be severely out of touch, living in an illusion of all is well, and so inherently unable to be fully honest. This is where treatment helps us, and where recovery supports after rehab can give us valuable reality checks. We need people who will help us stay honest. Treatment is a powerful first step in that. You can learn the skills of honesty with yourself and with others. You can also learn that honesty is a friendly practice, not one that will destroy you.

An Open Mind and the Effectiveness of Recovery Efforts

People with addictions are rather infamous for close-mindedness. Often they are seen as ‘know-it-alls’ and as arrogant people, not able to hear another’s differing opinion long enough to collaborate or even get along. As many have said about their addicted loved ones: ‘it’s his/her way or the highway’.  The word ‘stubborn’ does even come close to describing this type of attitude, and if you come up against it, you are likely to find yourself as put out and frustrated as many of the rest of us.

Looking deeper into close-mindedness in addiction, we see it is another protective tactic of the illness itself. Being open to new ideas would mean being open to change, and the illness process ‘wants’ to progress not be stopped. Accepting and working with someone’s view of your substance use as harmful would threaten the addiction if you agree with them and take corrective action in response. As far as the addiction is concerned, it is better to remain close-minded, and to not have your denial threatened.

An open mind in rehab and other recovery efforts requires listening to those who understand addiction and recovery. They can be trained and credentialed, educated in significant ways to help others who are addicted. Or, they can be living proof of a recovery process that works… Whoever these people are, professionals or not, you can ask yourself: do they have something you want? Serenity? Freedom? A happier and more successful life than you? If so, they are worth listening to and learning from?

There is great value in simply identifying those you need to listen to. You don’t have to accept everything they say, and you don’t have to accept their ways as the magic formula for you. People are individuals, and even though many share the core aspects of an addiction, individual experiences arise for each. The stories are similar enough to contain universal truths about recovering from an addiction, but you will have to find your own way, using whatever wisdom you can gather from others.

There is a great deal to learn from others, professionals and recovering peers alike, and their stories can teach you things you wouldn’t otherwise have been privileged to learn. However resistant or suspicious you feel, simply listening–without arguing, letting the information flow in–will benefit you greatly. Education and its knowledge are power. Opening a closed mind will make your efforts pay off. It is one of the avenues through which a rehab program will work for you.

Humility is a Key to Making it Work

Humility is often spoken of in recovery circles, and it is also often mistaken for humiliation which is a painful and victimizing experience. However, humility is more the recognition of one’s humanity–that there are things to be learned and that one is as fallible as anyone else. It is the exact polar opposite of the arrogant close-mindedness spoken of above.

Humility is described in the ’12 & 12′ (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), a core text of Alcoholics Anonymous, as giving us a perspective on ourselves  (p. 48), and that it transforms failure and misery (p. 7). It is said that humility brought strength out of weakness. (p. 75).

If you or a loved one are struggling in an addiction and wonder if there is any hope for recovery, be assured there is. Your willingness to do your part will make all the difference, ensuring your success, and there is competent and capable help available to show you the way. Give us a call today if you are ready to overcome your addiction. We offer free consultations to help clarify your treatments needs, validate your insurance and get you to the right help. Recovery is more than possible.