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Unlearn the Definition of “Addict”

I cannot tell you how many times I have had someone tell me, “You don’t sound like an addict” or “You don’t fit the profile of an addict”. My response used to be defensive and now I simply respond, “What does an addict look like from your perspective?” Hopefully, it provides an opportunity for discussion because these types of comments only emphasize the need for societal education on addiction and recovery.

It has been five years since I made the decision to change my life path to one of healing and recovery. I was a clinician on the brink of changing careers when I decided to get sober. Willingly and with eternal gratitude, I have been sober since July 2012 when I chose to admit to my addiction and find the resources I needed to alter a life path that would only lead to an early demise, if not jail or institutionalization.

I have been fortunate in my recovery, but it has not come without a lot of hard work and perseverance… it never does. And while the hard work that goes hand-in-hand with recovery never ends, it does get easier. I believe that it is time for society to learn more about addiction. In my opinion, the general misunderstanding about addiction is a dual one:

A) It is a choice to be or become an addict; and

B) Once you quit, you never have to think about it again.

I can promise you, I never grew up with the goal of becoming an alcoholic. Choice and decision making certainly played a role in this outcome, but one never knows when the line from social use to addiction will be crossed. People who end up abusing substances on a regular basis are, in most cases, searching for a solution, but it is almost always not their primary problem.

In early recovery/post detox, it is essential to ask the question, “What purpose is your drug of choice serving you?” The answer to this question will often lead to the deeper treatable issue(s) which can only be addressed once the individual has gained sobriety (via detoxification, self-help groups, etc.). The physical addiction to a substance takes very little time to eliminate, but the psychological addiction is why relapse is so common and why long-term treatment is necessary.

Thanks to my own recovery, a newfound passion for clinical work in substance use and mental health was revived. So, when the position for Coordinator of the new Co-Occurring Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) at Harrington became available, it seemed like a great opportunity to be able to use my clinical skills and personal experience to help others with the disease.

PHP level of care is meant to divert individuals from the hospital level of care, or to provide aftercare for those who are being discharged from the hospital to outpatient treatment but may need the added structure and support of day treatment. With this in mind, we have tried to develop a program that is both intensive and very personal at the same time. There are medical staff available on-site to manage any medical issues and medication stabilization. There is also a clinical team to facilitate groups, one-on-one treatment, family treatment, and to provide individualized aftercare planning.

The program incorporates the basics of learning to identify triggers and developing personalized coping skills along with the necessary education about mental health issues. A thorough psycho-educational approach is used to address trauma, depression, anxiety and many other underlying psychodynamic issues. We also use the group dynamic and cognitive behavioral techniques to begin the learning process of how to change cognitions in order to effectively change behavior. At the core of all of this is the process of learning how to increase self-worth and manage emotions as a crucial piece to successful long-term recovery and health.

You see, a life of recovery can be both incredibly challenging but infinitely rewarding simultaneously. There are a number of studies that are just surfacing which claim that the opposite of addiction is connection. I would not have understood this unless my own treatment did not only focus on how to get sober, but address my core issues and build my life skills which, in turn, increased my self-worth. I believe that when you develop the ability to care for yourself and gain emotional health, the urge to escape is replaced by a desire to finally be connected and to be of service to others.

Meagan Gaine, MSW LICSW, is the program coordinator for the Co-Occurring Disorders Partial Hospitalization Program at Harrington’s Webster campus.

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