I guess you can’t fault parents for wanting to keep their child as comfortable as possible. But in the world of addiction treatment and recovery, there’s a disturbing trend towards letting newly sober addicts dictate the terms of their treatment. It’s interesting – when you go to the doctor with a sickness, do you ask them to present you with three different medication options? Or do you rely on their professional experience to give you the best medication possible for your particular ailment? Addiction recovery is kind of like that. There is no one size fits all method that will work for everyone – but letting a sick person dictate their treatment is a recipe for disaster. When we give newly sober addicts that kind of control, how can we be surprised when they relapse?
Addiction Centers in The Mind
The research is in, and model of addiction as a disease centering in the mind is pretty much undisputed at this point. (Want to read some nuts and bolts about it? Check this out) This means that, no, your addicted child or loved one is not a bad person. They are dealing with a scientifically validated, empirically proven, chronic disorder. Like most other chronic disorders, it is very treatable, but not with a single pill or treatment session. It takes maintenance, regular upkeep, and consistent attention to keep it in remission. This shouldn’t be discouraging – there is definitely hope for recovery. But it’s important to understand where addiction begins and stems from in order to address it effectively.
Because addiction centers in the mind, and because of how it hijacks the brain’s reward system, it effects the addict’s abilities of perception. What does any of this have to do with this article about newly sober addicts choosing their treatment? Well, everything.
When someone is suffering from a disease that directly effects the way that they perceive the world around them, make decisions, and most importantly, behave, putting them behind the steering wheel of their recovery is like asking a child that has never driven before to drive a car across town. They are not equipped to complete the task in front of them – not because they’re a bad person, but because they lack the emotional tools at this stage in their sobriety. So when relapse happens, why is it a surprise?
Avoiding the Easier, Softer Way
One of the hallmark behavioral traits of an addict is the propensity to take the easier, softer way. We don’t like to get uncomfortable. In fact, we actively avoid it at all costs (hence our obsession with using drugs and alcohol!). In early sobriety, we still think and feel much the same way that we did in active addiction. This is because we have not had adequate time to recover and turn over the internal stones necessary to rewire the thinking and behaviors that have become second nature in the course of our addictions. So expecting a young person with a few short months sober to “know what’s best for them”, is an unrealistic expectation that sets them up for relapse.
Addicts will choose the easier, softer way 9 times out of 10. This means that the shiny bells and whistles that a treatment or recovery option offers are always going to be a lot more important to them than any evidence of actual recovery produced by a program. Red flags should be going off at this point – maybe part of the reason the individual has not be able to stay sober on their own is because of this kind of thinking?
Real recovery takes work. This doesn’t mean that it has to be a miserable, draconian experience – it does mean though, that the easier softer way is usually not effective.
Setting Yourself Up For Relapse
If you are seeking professional help for a problem that you and your child have been unable to solve independently, why allow them to hijack the process. The addiction treatment and recovery industry is filled with a wide range of options when it comes to getting sober. There are different modalities, methods, types of programs and approaches. There are also professionals that have seen and helped a lot of people get sober. Wouldn’t it make sense to let the professionals do their jobs when you are dealing with something as serious as a young person’s life?
While many young, newly sober addicts may mean well and fully intend to stay sober, their ability to make choices that will steer them away from relapse is not yet developed. That’s why they’re in the situation that they are in. When a newly sober addict dictates the terms of their treatment, they are setting themselves up for relapse.
If Their Way Worked, They Wouldn’t Need Treatment
The easiest way to sum this whole concept up is with a single statement. If their way, on their terms, worked, they would not need treatment in the first place. How often this simple but true statement seems to get forgotten in the process of recovery. While it is tempting to hope for the best and believe that a newly sober addict has gotten their wits about them and is now squarely on a path to success after a few short months, it is usually just not the case. If we had the ability to fix ourselves, with the same thinking and perception that we relied on during our addiction, there would be no need for counselors, 12 step fellowships, support or assistance of any sort.
Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. While addicts have to get engaged in their own recovery in order for it to be successful, they shouldn’t be the ones to dictate how it is going to look.