06 September 2018

Secrets of Long-Term Addiction Recovery: The Right Help for Addiction at the Right Time

With many treatment options available, it can be difficult to decide where to get help for addiction. At such a vulnerable time in your life, do you go to your doctor, get addiction counselling or go into a residential addiction treatment centre? Is a detox enough or do you also need therapy? What can families do about a relative’s addiction? And what ongoing help for addiction is available for people in recovery who are struggling?

The first time you seek help for addiction

It’s a brave and important step to admit that you need help for addiction. Perhaps you’ve confided in a close friend, searched online, called a helpline or talked to your GP. Whichever it is, it’s a breakthrough to realise that addiction has taken over in your life. It’s sometimes described as a moment of clarity or lucidity – when the truth of the harms and consequences of active addiction become impossible to ignore or deny.

When you feel willing to get help, it can be advisable to act quickly. Waiting weeks or months to start treatment for addiction can mean the motivation to engage falters or disappears altogether. It can be easy to slip back into denial about the harms of addiction, convincing yourself that you have things under control.  If there is a pattern of swearing off an addiction, then returning to it within days or weeks, this often indicates a need for professional help.

There will never be a perfect time to get help for addiction – but most people who go on to achieve lasting recovery agree:

  • it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done
  • asking for help with addiction didn’t cause more problems in their life – in fact, it started the process of relieving their difficulties
  • often, they wish they’d found recovery sooner in life.

Do I need inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment?

That very much depends on your individual circumstances, including the substances you use and how often you taken them. Other factors can play a part including co-existing mental health diagnoses and addictive disorders. The environment you live in can be important too. Are you living in a safe place, close to family and friends who fully support your wish to stop? Or are you frequently in close contact with active addicts, who have no desire to change.

A medically managed detoxification is often advisable when there is a physical dependency to alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, cocaine and prescription medications, including when they are mixed with other drugs. Although detoxifications are possible in the community, it’s safer to monitor people in a residential setting. Good addiction treatment facilities have qualified nursing and support staff available 24 hours a day, to ensure physical discomfort and mental distress are minimised.

Where detoxification is not necessary, there is a greater choice whether you want to enter residential rehabilitation, seek addiction counselling or access community services and peer support groups. Often, a short period of time in residential addiction treatment can provide intensive therapeutic support at the start of the recovery, to create firmer foundations for long-lasting change.

Is a detox enough to beat addiction?

Medically supervised alcohol detox and/ or drug detox is the first step on the road to recovery from addiction. A detox is usually required when people are physically dependent on alcohol or drugs. A medical assessment determines the need for a detox, including how long it should take and what medications are prescribed. Typically a detox takes from several days up to several weeks, depending on the type and amount of substances used. The aim is to make the physical withdrawal process as comfortable as possible.

A detox only programme may be appropriate for someone who has previously experienced addiction treatment. They may have relapsed after a difficult life event or trauma. At their assessment, they show a strong motivation to re-establish their recovery and there is a plan to address the problems that led up to their relapse. They have a good understanding of where to access ongoing support in the community too.

For most people, however, detoxification needs to be accompanied by some form of addiction rehabilitation. Rehab could take place in a residential or non-residential setting – depending on personal preference, the history of addiction and environmental factors. What’s most important is that alcohol or drug rehabilitation begins as soon as possible, usually alongside the detox process, then continues for a period of time after the physical withdrawal is complete. This gives people the best chance of benefiting and learning from therapeutic interventions, to start making the changes that are required for long-term recovery.

What can families do to help a relative in active addiction?

Has your relative expressed a desire to get help for addiction? If so, encouraging them can be really beneficial, to reinforce the change they want to make. Supporting your family member with practical matters can be helpful too, including researching addiction treatment options and making preparations for a period of time away from home, work and family.

If a relative in active addiction has not indicated they want to stop, then an addiction intervention is possible. This is a process of persuasive confrontation, planned carefully with family and sometimes friends. The aim is to break through the denial of harms or consequences of addiction, both to themselves and others close to them. The main goal is to motivate addicts to accept help for addiction. It’s not a forceful process, however – when people feel strongly coerced into treatment, often outcomes suffer. It can sometimes take several attempts with addiction intervention to cut through the denial of active addiction. It won’t work for everyone – but for those it does, it can lead to a life in recovery. 

When people in recovery need further help for addiction

Sometimes people can discover months or years into the recovery from a primary addiction that they have another underlying addictive disorder. A cocaine addict may discover they suffer from co-dependence in relationships, for example – they frequently do things they don’t want to do to please people in their life, causing themselves significant stress. A recovering alcohol addict may discover that they struggle with over-eating, bingeing on sugary foods to change the way they feel. There may be significant underlying traumas, which happened in childhood or adulthood, which only surface after a period of time in addiction recovery.

Whilst most of these issues can be dealt with through 1-2-1 counselling or peer support groups in the community, sometimes further specialist treatment is the best option. Trauma therapy, for example, is sometimes undertaken months or years into the recovery from a primary addiction – to help people come to terms with abuse, losses or very traumatic past events.

Whatever stage you’re at in addiction or recovery – whether you are trying to stop for the first time or you’ve been in recovery for many years – if you need help, get in touch with UKAT.

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