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[ Opinion ]

The Great Treatment Fallacy

Any good treatment centre will tell you that treatment is just a beginning it’s not a cure. Treatment is a safe place for an addict to remain sober and learn the tools he will need to continue a sober life once he returns to the outside world. Unfortunately, there is a fallacy that addicts and their family members have fallen prey to and that’s that therapy is needed right away. This couldn’t be further from the truth and often causes further suffering for the addict and her family. Ontario, Canada (most likely the whole country) has a terrible mental health system and not enough, publicly funded, treatment beds which has resulted in a plethora of private addiction treatment centres popping up and competing for those who can afford it. Due to the fact that addicts and their families are not properly educated about how treatment should work these private facilities boast one-on-one therapy sessions for clients in order to attract new customers and the customers buy into it.

Constant drug and alcohol abuse not only affects the body but it also affects the mind. The brain begins to get re-wired and the addict acts out in odd ways. I remember becoming very paranoid when using stimulants and depressed and anxious when I wasn’t using. Near the end of my drug and alcohol use I’d break down in tears on my way to work for no discernable reason. Many people looking at this behaviour would classify me as mentally ill but a good diagnosis could not be made until I had some stability in my sobriety.

People self-medicate in order not to feel pain. When I say the word pain most people jump to the conclusion that I’m talking about physical pain but we all suffer emotional pain in our daily lives. The addict cannot handle this pain and turns to the most successful tool in getting rid of that pain- self-medication. Regrettably, the tool works so well at first the addict doesn’t pick up any other methods to deal with pain relying solely on drugs and alcohol which inevitably turn again him. This is the reason that therapy at the beginning of recovery causes more problems than good and the addict will most likely relapse.

A therapist deals with trauma, PTSD, body-image issues, etc. All of these things bring up strong and painful emotions. Therapy-based treatment centres try to deal with these strong emotions immediately without allowing an addict to practice using tools, other than self-medication, to deal with pain.

A therapist will see a client swearing and disrespecting both staff and other clients and ask the question, “What’s behind this behaviour?” A good counsellor will acknowledge that there may be some underlying issue but will put a stop to the anti-social behaviour first. When I first entered recovery I was full of distorted thinking which resulted in negative behaviours. Due to the re-wiring of my brain (that came as a result of my alcohol/drug use) my thinking would be distorted for months to come. At the behest of good counsellors and 12-Step sponsorship I began to change my behaviours first and as my brain returned to homeostasis my thinking followed. Not until an addict’s behaviours and thinking line up can therapy become effective. Many addicts have suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse. Many have seen things they can’t deal with on their own. It’s vital that this type of trauma be dealt with but trying to dig into right away in the first days, weeks even months of sobriety is fool-hardy. Stability in recovery comes from routine and cognitive-behavioural changes (and yes 12 Steps are CBT with a spiritual approach). With the tools used to maintain this stability the addict can safely deal with traumatic issues that will bring pain. Nature proves this to us. Denial is a natural part of addiction. The brain goes into denial mode as part of the flight/fight approach so as to not cause us pain. By learning from our own bodies (kind of sounds like mindfulness to me – and therapists LOVE that stuff) we learn not to bring up painful emotions during the most vulnerable time of recovery – at minimum the first nine months.

Until the public is better educated as to how addiction works and is treated they will continue to shell out thousands of dollars to therapy-based treatment centres and the relapse rates will continue to rise. Until governments realize that it’s cheaper to treat the disease than to jail the sufferers this won’t happen. It’s ironic that if an addict calls a publicly funded treatment centre she will not receive help for weeks or months to come but if the same addict robs someone, while she is waiting for her treatment appointment, she gets thousands of dollars’ worth of service immediately. One of the only countries that seem to have figured this out is Portugal where drugs are decriminalized and addiction treatment is readily available.