In 2012 and 2013 there were articles in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and across the Internet indicating that the field of addiction, recovery, and sober living needed to improve. Although the field has come a long way, there is much more development to undergo.
For instance, it took some time for the field of addiction to recognize that teens and adults recover differently. It was in the 1950’s when clinicians began to recognize that the behaviors of teens with addiction were different than adults with addictions and that they deserved different treatment methods. In fact, with this recognition, the first adolescent treatment center opened in 1952 with Riverside Hospital in New York City. Treatment centers specifically for teens grew more rapidly in the 1980’s through the 1990’s due to increasing research that addictions in teens warrant different treatment.
The same is true for women in recovery. The history of women in addiction treatment is rich and full of stories of achievement. In their work, they highlighted the differences between men and women in their patterns of addiction, the obstacles and approaches to treatment, and the pathways, styles and stages of long-term recovery. Since this clear recognition, leading women across the country continue to fight for the rights of addicted women, including establishing treatment centers for women only and serving as pioneers in addiction medicine.
Today, the big focus for the field of recovery is the need for evidence based practices. Evidence-based practices are those that are based upon research and have been proven to bring health to patients in the fields of psychology and medicine. In a treatment center or sober living facility, evidence-based therapies that facilitate sobriety include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, group therapy, relapse prevention, and aftercare.
The need for evidence practices comes from a deeper need to reintegrate the world of addiction treatment with the medical model. On the whole, addicts seeking sober living and recovery were rejected by medical establishments, and so, instead they received help outside of the field of medicine. This split is part of the healing that needs to take place. Dr. Walter Ling, a leading addiction specialist at UCLA put it this way: “Drug abuse treatment developed outside mainstream medicine. We’re still suffering from that.”
Interestingly, though, an addiction is indeed a medical problem. It affects the physical body and the brain. In fact, most drugs activate the brain’s reward system, which is the key to addiction. This reward system can perpetuate the need for the drug until it becomes the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. Alcohol, opiates, and cocaine, for example, increase levels of the chemical dopamine in the reward pathway of the brain. With repeated use, baseline dopamine levels wane to compensate and a drug becomes less pleasurable, requiring ever-larger doses.
As the field of recovery recognizes the “disease” of addiction, it continues to learn from the medical model and incorporate medical practices, including those that are evidence based. For instance, drug rehabilitative treatment works to break down the reward system of the brain. In turn, no longer using a drug can help restore some of the damage that takes place between neurons in the brain. Furthermore, the medical and the psychological forms of treatment are beginning to become more and more integrated to address the full scope of addiction and the path to sober living.
Sadly, about 21 million Americans have a substance-abuse disorder for which they need addiction treatment. Having treatment methods rooted in research and evidence continues to be a strong need of the recovery field, not only to improve addiction treatment, but also to facilitate sober living in the lives of those who need it.
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