We’ve got it wrong when it comes to using “addiction treatment” as the way we talk about helping people with their substance use and addiction diseases. It’s not surprising when you think about how we as a society continue to perpetuate the stigma around addiction. The view of addiction as a disease is still slow to be accepted. As a result, people with these diseases/who are concerned with their substance use and their families continue to suffer in silence. They continue to try and sweep it under the rug. They continue to only aim for that homeostasis that does not allow the “family secret” to spill out into the public.
This is not working. People are suffering. This is because we still cannot get past the idea that substance use is the main problem of addiction disease. It is not.
Getting Rid of “Addiction Treatment”
Using the phrase “addiction treatment” draws the focus of treatment to the symptoms of addiction — the substance use itself. Most of the time the focus is to get the person to stop using, implying that by just removing the substance from a person’s life, things will get better immediately. We know this is simply not the case. This view is failing people because addiction disease is not just about the substance.
The use of substances is a symptom of addiction disease.
It is a coping mechanism that coats the real problem. It shields the person in a quick and fairly easy way from whatever is troubling them. Substance use is a defense mechanism. It is a learned behavior that people use to feel ok to fight back against the addiction disease. This is what we must realize to fight back against it. We must realize this to provide recovery support.
“Recovery Support” as the New and Improved “Addiction Treatment” Model
Johann Hari said in his Ted Talk that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection. Recovery Support focuses on the addition of connection; not solely on the subtraction of substance use. Recovery support implies that people need to be connected to resources that will aid in the development of better coping skills. It implies that people need to be connected to other people so that they know they are not alone in getting better. That someone will be there to help them when they are not feeling well and the symptoms of using substances come back. That it is ok to feel that way and to talk about it. That there is no shame in that. That they are a human being with a disease that can be managed. That people with addiction diseases can, will, and do get better. That there is hope.
Think about people going through chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. When they get diagnosed, a recovery village gets built around them to address their needs. Family and friends tend to surround the person and make themselves available with offers of help. Places of work make accommodations as that person goes through their treatment. Healthcare workers link them with extra resources to address finances, wellness, nutrition, and other services as needed. We need to do the same for people with addiction diseases.
It invites society to see that the people with these diseases are not the problem; it is the addiction disease that is the problem. Just like a person with cancer is not the problem; it is cancer that is the problem.
Treatment must focus on adding as much support as is desired and needed. Efforts in recovery support must focus on helping them see that within themselves is the ability to recover. They need to see that there are people around to help them. They need to be shown that they, as the whole person they are, are cared more about than solely their addiction symptoms. We must find ways to help them find what motivates them and what they are interested in/passionate about. Then help them build the skills to engage in their passions and live their lives to the fullest. That is recovery treatment and support.
Using the term “recovery support” helps eliminate the stigma of “addiction treatment.” It emphasizes what actually needs to be done to help people recovery from addiction diseases. It invites family, friends, coworkers, healthcare professionals, and other supports to learn more about how they can help. It invites society to see that the people with these diseases are not the problem; it is the addiction disease that is the problem. Just like a person with cancer is not the problem; it is cancer that is the problem. This is how, to borrow from the cancer survivor vernacular, we “kick addiction’s ass,” and help more people get the support that they need to get better.