What is Addiction "Recovery"

I've seen lots of debate and discussion surrounding addiction and mental health language. My belief is people can identify themselves as they choose, but that doesn't give me the right to address them as such. Some people who have been addicted to alcohol and then abstain and attend ongoing Alcohlics Anonomous meetings openly refer to themselves as an "Alcoholic". Likewise is true with the term "Addict". Personally, I don't use that language when speaking about another human, but I respect whatever people need to do to maintain their own accountability and goals.

I follow that same logic with all my patients. I don't say I'm taking care of The Diabetic or The Cancer Survivor. I say my patient has been diagnosed with diabetes or my patient has survived cancer. It is not my place or job to label someone as their disease.

Now the debate is hitting my social media feeds, What does it mean to be in Addiction Recovery? Does California Sober count? Do I have to start my sober date over if I relapse? Amazing how much we can circle the drain in our efforts to define things for other people.

I work in this field therfore I have to be striving for something otherwise what the heck am I doing? I utilize the following definition from SAMHSA to drive my practice:

SAMHSA (substance abuse & mental health services administration) define recovery as "A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential."

But what does that look like in action? So I asked my Linkedin followers their definition of Addiction Recovery and got some amazing responses:

"To continue to identify and then eliminate 'the things' I'm no longer willing to 'do' or be near" -J.D.

" Addiction recovery is gaining the self-esteem back and not feeling so bad about yourself that you want to do drugs everyday. Addiction recovery is leaving bad 'friends' behind and finding a supportive circle who is cheering you on. Addiction recovery is focusing on exercise, diet, and sleep to make it so you make better judgement calls and have less emotional impulsivity. " Z.W.

"My definition is someone who used to struggle with the life they were living due to substance use: now they are happy and healthy whether or not they are substance free." S.D.

"Addiction Recovery is something any human being can access without being required to have a disease for life diagnosis/belief system." R.E.

"To gain the trust of my loved ones back again." Anonomous

So if we all define it differently, how do we, as a specialty, helping those overcome addiction measure our outcomes/success? Outcomes matter when trying to establish standards of care. If Addiction is Something that requires Treatment, How do we know if what we are doing is actually helping?

Tricky, isn't it?

When I work with a family or individual, I ask them in the beginning what a life of 'recovery' would look like for them. What would make you feel whole? I measure their success based on their own goals and self reported improvement in overall wellness. Sometimes as people learn more, their definition morphs, and that's ok too.

So my method of measurement works for my clients, but what about the greater cause and creating a reliable and equitable measurement so that people seeking help know they are going to a reputable service?

If you were getting heart surgery, you'd want to know that your surgeon has good results. There are measurements in place for various medical procedures and diagnoses. We simply lack that clarity when it comes to Addiction.

I don't have the answers, but have ideas on where to start. If Recovery is Abstinence then we negate that people can be clean and sober and still not be living a life they or their family is proud of. If Recovery is Individualized then we negate the potential that it is measureable. So what do we do?

I believe there are other validated tools that can demonstrate an increased quality of life. We can use depression, anxiety, and suicide scales. Are they improving?

We can also look at vital signs such as resting heart rate and blood pressure. There are also happiness scales.

Maybe we are trying to measure the wrong things when we try to define "Recovery".

I agree the Addiction field is full of unvalidated treatment methods. But maybe recovery is something we can't define until we find it for ourselves?

What if treatment centers were required to publically publish consistent pre and post measurements from a variety of tools. I'm not talking about begging and bribing for Google Reviews. I'm not talking a measurement of alumni participation at the annual barbecue. I'm talking about validated measurements of improved quality of life. If this was mandated, consumers could make informed decisions about where they want to recieve treatment based on the areas they most want to see improvements in.

Until we can get this right, it is very difficult to navigate Addiction Recovery Programs.

So how do I help?

I match your goals with treatment centers that promote those. I do this based on in depth vetting process and asking hard questions. I also follow my clients through their treatment to assure they are getting the services they were promised. When they say individualize care, what does that really mean? If they state individual therapy sessions, how many per week and what are the credentials of the clinical staff? Do they offer more than one way to 'recover'?

"Freedom from something that I used to do against my own better judgement." K.S.

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