To understand the importance of therapy in addiction treatment, we must first understand the three primary risk factors of addiction.
Risk Factors for Addiction Include
This could be the environment just inside the home or local society or culture. Children raised in households where substance abuse is commonplace or even encouraged often see drugs and alcohol as tools to social interaction as necessary and predictable as dinnerware during a meal. Children who grow up in neighborhoods or schools where substance use is seen as desirable or part of the hierarchical standing of popularity may drink or use drugs as means of validation or a tool of acceptance. It’s not always in childhood however, environmental influences can foster addiction in adults as well. This is a common report amongst clients working in certain industries such as food service, blue-collar jobs, marketing professionals, and recruiters. Some of these professionals feel that drinking or using substances is an occupational expectation and believe they risk employment by disengaging.
We know addiction, like most mental health conditions can be passed down through generations. If a parent or grandparent has a history of substance abuse there is always a risk that a child may inherit the inability to moderate the use of mood mind-altering chemicals. Genetic predisposition does not predict addiction with any certainty however, this risk factor coupled with the afore or afro mentioned risk factors could create a strong likelihood of substance abuse potential.
Human beings are biologically designed to prioritize survival above all else. When a hiker became trapped under a rock, he willingly detached his own limb in order to survive. When we experience trauma, our bodies can become paralyzed with fear. Our minds may become cloudy and detached from daydreaming or disassociation. We push forward in our pursuits but sometimes find that our ability to complete basic survival functions such as eating, or sleeping has been stunted or in some cases halted altogether. This births a survival-based response of desperation which excitedly seeks an avenue to avoid the pain of trauma while arriving at the same destination. Drugs and alcohol can offer a temporary pain relief in which trauma sufferers may be relieved of discomfort long enough to complete those survival functions they previously found overwhelming or impossible.
Examining these contributing factors makes clear two ideas. The first is that addiction is more than a simple desire to get high or a need to “let loose”. The second is that addicts and alcoholics are not monoliths. Each road to addiction is unique and thus requires the same specialized care in formulating a path to recovery. The pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all approach to a substance-free life has been used for decades and has even found some success among members of mutual-help groups such as alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous. While these tried-and-true membership meetings can close gaps in services for those without access to therapy, they will never replace the critical value of a trained mental health professional working to address the root causes of addiction while combating triggers for relapse.
What Does an Addiction Therapist Do?
Addiction therapists are trained in identifying levels of addiction including recognizing the severity of substance abuse based on criteria such as
- Length of use
- Frequency of use
- Multiple or polysubstance use
- Previous attempts at sobriety
- Persistent use despite Legal, health, or personal consequence
After assessing the severity of the addiction, the therapist will interview the client on his or her life including historical information from life prior to addiction. This will also include the present circumstances which lead to the decision to seek treatment. After this interview, addiction therapists will work collaboratively with the patient to determine goals and hopes for the future. This meeting will offer the clinical professional all the information needed to create an individualized treatment plan which will address the specific needs of the individual seeking recovery from substance abuse.
Treatment plans can address many areas of concern or growth including:
- Childhood trauma
- Grief & loss
- Co-occurring Mental illness
- Physical wellness
- Relationship patterns
- Occupational troubles
- Educational pursuits
- Family dynamics
- Healthy coping mechanisms
- Risk factors for relapse
- Resources and referrals
Detoxification and pro-recovery efforts can help many to find sobriety but without therapeutic intervention, there is no guarantee that sobriety will withstand the test of time. Healing addiction is much like healing a broken leg. We can keep it elevated, apply ice and stay off it for a little while and we may even find that we can walk again. We may have a limp, or we may walk steadily but the moment we apply real pressure or run too quickly, the bone that was never really healed will split as though we had never recovered at all. Now the consequences are more severe and the recovery more brutal; painful pitfalls that may have been avoided had we only set it right in the first place. Recovery can happen in the absence of therapy but why risk the inevitable fall of a weakened step?