September is international recovery month; this is where people share their stories about their recovery and professionals share their findings with each other, all in the name of reducing the stigma attached to it. However, the word “recovery” can seem confusing and vague to many people; it is certainly the case that it means different things to different people. Rehab is also a source of uncertainty; we have all seen depictions of it in films but what is it actually like in real life, and what benefits can you get from it?

If you ask most people what they think rehab consists of, they would tell you that it involves people sitting around in circles and receiving psychotherapy, with the aim of being abstinent from an addictive substance or behaviour. And whilst they may be right about the overall aim, there are many more benefits to rehab than simply quitting drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction.

Our brains possess the ability to change according to outside stimulus; this is called ‘neuroplasticity’1. Addiction physically changes the make-up of the brain; this can be observed in brain scans. It is thought that addiction affects the pre-frontal cortex, which affects decision making and can make urges to use seem almost irresistible to those in active addiction2. Treatment gives the brain a chance to ‘rewire’ its dopamine system; whilst your body is recalibrating you can be guided through it therapeutically.

It is thought that many people’s addiction arise from trauma3 causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this school of thought, the addiction is an unhealthy coping mechanism for the symptoms of this condition. Treatment and subsequent recovery offers people the opportunity to develop healthy coping strategies for life, which are sustainable and rewarding rather than destructive.

Addiction can impact on the health and finances of those who suffer from it. However, the damage does not stop there. The families of addicts often bear the brunt of much of their addiction4, either through the addict’s behaviour, which can be far from rational at time, through to the stress knowing their loved one is ill and there is little they can do to help them. Finding recovery not only enables the addict to live a less stressful existence; it also reduces the burden on their loved ones.

Addiction can affect everyone; ranging from the homeless, to international CEOs5, to royalty. This means that not everyone experiences the same “rock bottom”. A popular misconception is that in order to want to change someone has to lose absolutely everything; this is not true and many addicts are able to maintain successful professional lives whilst addicted. However, this does not mean that it is enjoyable, even if they don’t realise it at the time.

Humans are resilient creatures; we adapt to our surroundings. In time, anything can start to feel normal; this is a powerful evolutionary tactic. However, just because something has become normalised to us does not mean that it is not affecting us. Addiction is no different. Although it might seem absolutely normal it could still be affecting us on a subconscious level; it will almost certainly be affecting us on a physical level.

Until we are allowed to take a step back and survey our addiction from an outside perspective, we cannot see how much it is affecting us. Often the presence of trained professionals can help us with this. Many people find a new freedom in recovery, not realising how much the closed mindedness and obsession of addiction was holding them back.

Therapy is something which can benefit everyone. Many people typically go through life unaware of how their psyche works, why they react certain ways to certain situations, and what drives them. This is akin to knowing how to drive a car, whilst not knowing how the engine works. Therapy and treatment allows you to lift the bonnet of the metaphorical car and explore the inner workings in a controlled and safe environment. It is here that there is huge potential for personal growth; we can develop realistic and achievable goals for self-improvement.

For many people, recovery also means a fresh start and a new lease of life. This means that it is a fantastic opportunity to take stock, and realise what is really important to us. Therapeutic processes are a brilliant way to do this; this is why it is so important to choose a treatment centre with a client focussed approach. Many treatment centres treat all of their clients in the same way; this does not allow as much potential for personal growth as a bespoke, tailored approach. Recovery also opens the doors to a whole new community of people who have shared similar experiences to you; this can be refreshing as addiction is typically a very isolating condition.

 

1 Seo, Dongju, and Rajita Sinha. “Neuroplasticity and Predictors of Alcohol Recovery.” Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 37,1 (2015): 143-52.

2 Leshner, Alan I. “Addiction Is A Brain Disease, And It Matters”. Science, vol 278, no. 5335, 1997, pp. 45-47. American Association For The Advancement Of Science (AAAS), doi:10.1126/science.278.5335.45. Accessed 17 Aug 2020.

3 Volpicelli, J et al. “The role of uncontrollable trauma in the development of PTSD and alcohol addiction.” Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism vol. 23,4 (1999): 256-62.

4 Barnard, Marina. Drugs In The Family. Jessica Kingsley, 2006

5 McMahon, Robert C. et al. “Psychological Correlates And Treatment Outcomes For High And Low Social Functioning Alcoholics”. International Journal Of The Addictions, vol 21, no. 7, 1986, pp. 819-835. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.3109/10826088609027395. Accessed 17 Aug 2020.

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