Calling bullshit on addiction treatment bullies

About three years ago, I was attending a national conference on public health (American Public Health Association) and presenting my posters on the relationship between drug use and violence, and sexually transmitted infections and injecting drugs. As I walked the aisles I ran into a woman who runs a Florida addiction “treatment” facility. We talked for a bit about my work, her facility, and then we shared some of our personal stories. Mine included meth addiction, jail, recovery, and now graduate school studying addictions. Everything was great until I mentioned that I now drink alcohol socially… “We’ll save a seat for you” she told me as she handed me her business card. Idiot.

Recovery bullies and addiction treatment

Dr. Adi Jaffe Lecturing in Los AngelesAs soon as my version of recovery from addiction didn’t match her expectations, it was an immediate failure. Forget the 6 years I’d spent free from crystal meth use, the excellent graduate school career that was producing real results I was there to present. Forget the fact that my family, my bosses, and my girlfriend at the time thought I was doing amazingly well – As far as this woman was concerned it was her way, or her way. Well I call bullshit on that thinking once and for all.

Unfortunately for her, the research evidence, as well as the actual human evidence that I’ve seen, shows that recovery from addiction comes in many colors and flavors, like pretty much everything else in life. We’ve covered research on all about addiction before showing that the best evidence to date actually calls into question the idea that relapse is the necessary disaster so many paint it as. The fact that the majority of those who meet criteria for drug dependence at some point in their life actually recover on their won is also there, and although this does nothing to reduce the impact of addiction on all those who have an incredibly difficult time quitting, it’s there and can’t be ignored. Drug dependence is almost certainly not a one size problem and the solution is probably far from a one-size-fits-all, no matter how much you like your own solution.

So there’s cognitive behavioral therapy, peer support solutions (like SMART Recovery, Rational Recovery, Life Ring, 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and more), medication-supported recovery (like Suboxone, Methadone, Vivitrol and more), Motivational interviewing and other Motivational Enhancement techniques, as well as a whole host of psychotheraputic approaches that are more eclectic. No research we have to date indicates that any of these approaches is necessarily more effective than others, which means that they are all essentially equally effective. We’ve already talked about some combinations that work very well together, like PHP programs for physicians, but there is absolutely nothing to indicate that the 12-steps (for examples) are somehow superior to CBT, or Rational Recovery, when it comes to treating addiction.

If you get better, you’re a success in my book

When it comes down to it, whether this Florida 12-stepper likes it or not, I am still a social drinker and I still don’t believe that this nullifies any of my other achievements or my successful recovery. More importantly, it doesn’t nullify the success of millions of others, no matter how poorly it fits with some people’s notions. When a life gets overrun by drug use or another addiction, a successful outcome to me means recapturing a functional life that is no longer dictated by the pursuit of that addictive behavior. Anything more or less is a personal preference sort of thing. The problem with these idiots who will absolutely ignore success because it doesn’t conform to their expectations is that they drive people out of treatment and away from success and that is not okay. I’ll continue to call them out for their narrow mindedness and hopefully eventually, their voice will be far from the dominant one.

About Alfred Adler – One psychoanalytic view of alcohol and drug addiction

In a previous post (see A Million Ways to Treat an Addict) I had mentioned that there are many ways to approach the treatment of addiction to drugs and alcohol. I mentioned methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and a growing number of medications (like Vivitrol) and possibly some preventative measures (like an upcoming nicotine vaccine). The reason its important to know about the options for addiction treatment is that even if one treatment doesn’t work, there’s nothing to indicate that another will not and I believe that it’s the duty of those who treat alcohol and drug addiction to be aware, and make use, of multiple therapies to give their clients the best chance at treatment success. However, even within specific categories of treatment methods, like psychoanalysis, there are several schools that approach the individual problem differently.Here I think that an individual therapist’s discretion is the best tool we have in terms of therapy selection, at least for now.

Alfred Adler and addiction

While he was part of the group that started the school of psychoanalysis along with Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler had his own ideas about psychology. I’ll let you read more about the man and his history on your own time, but I want to point out his emphasis on family structure, dynamic, rank, and power structure as a main source for later psychopathology.

adlerHis concept of ‘inferiority complex‘ is one that is especially familiar to addicts. Feeling somehow incompetent, many addicts compensate by attempting to prove their worth at every possible chance. The overcompensation can make them seem cold, competitive, and insensitive. This often alienates them more, straining relationships and making them withdraw further. This is at least one of the reasons for the necessity of ‘drug buddies’ or ‘using friends’ to make up for the loss of many other social relationships.

Adler stressed equality as important for the prevention of pathology. Adlerian therapy establishes equality from the start with a therapist-client relationship that is collaborative rather than one in which the therapist is a teacher or master. Some clients will find this method more suitable, while other will need a more confrontational therapy, which we will address soon.

Overall, Adler’s approach seems very much in line with motivational interviewing methods whereby the therapist and client move together to find appropriate solutions that come from the client’s own resolution of ambiguity and indecision. I personally believe that such non-confrontational methods are important for many clients as they avoid the accusations, finger pointing, and blaming that normally goes along with trying to direct addicts to treatment. Still, there are many options out there, and being aware of what is available allows clients, and their loved ones, find the right treatment and produce much better choices.

Drug, alcohol, and other addiction help from All About Addiction

If you need help finding treatment for your own, or a loved one’s sex addiction, make sure to give our Rehab-Finder a try: It’s the only evidence-based, scientifically created, tool for finding rehab anywhere in the United States!

A&E’s Intervention: The Johnson Model, Motivational Interviewing, and more

A&E’s “Intervention” is a reality series that follows one individual struggling with addiction per episode.  Family and friends gather with an interventionist toward the end of the episode and an intervention is planned.  The addict is then given a choice between leaving immediately for rehab or risk losing contact, financial support or some other privileges from their family and friends.

All interventions are not the same

This style of intervention used in A&E’s “Intervention” is known as The Johnson Model (JM), as thought up by Dr. Vernon Johnson in the 1960s. This intervention model has, because of the show, become the most recognizable version of addiction intervention.  An interventionist using this style aims to abruptly break the denial that is harbored by the chemically independent individual.  By assembling loved ones and presenting an ultimatum, the addict is forced to hit “bottom”, in hopes of pushing them toward recovery and avoiding further destruction.

There are alternative intervention approaches, including Motivational Interviewing (MI), and CRAFT (Community reinforcement and family training).  These relatively more recent and less confrontational approaches also employ professional counselors or interventionists who seeks to move the addict into a state in which they themselves are motivated to change their behavior (MI) or who focus on teaching behavior change skills to use at home (CRAFT).

By using common psychological techniques such as mirroring and reflecting, MI practitioners gradually make the client face the consequences of their action, taking the burden of motivation away from loved ones. CRAFT practitioners, on the other hand, use a manual-drive method to improve the addict’s awareness of negative consequences, reinforce non-drinking behavior, and improve communication skills and participation in competing activities. Both methods also prepare family members (or friends) to initiate treatment, if necessary, when the patient was ready. Though far less dramatic and “TV worthy,” MI has been shown in research to be very effective at increasing clients’ motivation to change in many different setting including addiction. It’s also my favorite technique because it allows for amazing, non-confrontational, change.

Some of the reasons to question the confrontational Johnson Model used in A&E’s “Intervention” have to do with the fact that although they’ve been shown to increase treatment entry rates once a successful intervention has been performed, they haven’t been shown to do much for treatment completion rates. Even more important is the fact that multiple studies have found that a small percentage of those who seek consultation in this method actually go through with the family confrontation portion. Instead, the more collaborative and supportive MI and CRAFT methods have greater participation and have been shown to provide even better treatment entry as well as improvement in communication and overall relationship satisfaction between the families and the addicts (which JM interventions provide as well). Additionally, a significant portion of individuals who enter treatment after a JM intervention end up leaving treatment early or relapsing quickly since they themselves have not yet internalized the motivation to quit.

Pressure and shame can backfire

This phenomenon can be seen in Corinne’s episode of A&E’s Intervention.  Addicted to heroin and crystal meth, Corinne had lost control of her life and her family was desperate to save her.  Corinne is a diabetic and had not been taking her insulin for years, using her needles to shoot-up instead. When Corinne overdosed nine months prior to taping, Corinne’s family knew they needed to intervene.  During taping, an interventionist was brought in to meet with the family.  She helped them to plan out how they will address Corinne.  She started by emphasizing how desperate the situation has become and encouraged them to be forceful with Corinne. She explained that this is a life or death situation and that if Corinne refuses treatment, they might consider turning her in to be arrested.  As Corinne arrives, she reacts harshly and explains that she is not “ready” for treatment.  She flees the room for a short time only to return and agree to go into rehabilitation as they had requested.

As is too often the case, Corinne struggles at the first treatment center and is quickly transferred. Eventually after getting clean, her family is overjoyed.  Unfortunately this is short lived when three weeks after taping, she relapses several times. As usual, I think it’s important to know every tool available when considering how to help an addict – that’s why I believe that knowing about MI and CRAFT (as well as other intervention methods) in case the more popular Johnson Model Intervention doesn’t work is crucial. It’s a matter of life and death.

Citation:

Miller, W.R., Meyers, R.J., and Tonigan, J.S. (1999). Engaging the unmotivated in treatment for alcohol problems: Comparison of three strategies for intervention through family members. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 688-697.

Rollnick, S., Allison, J. (2003) Motivational Interviewing, in The Essential Handbook Of Treatment and Prevention of Alcohol Problems (2003)

How it doesn’t work – the dogma of the 12 steps

Imagine being diagnosed with cancer, going through a regimen of chemotherapy only to have the cancer return within months, and being told by your doctor that there must be something wrong with you and that he can’t treat you unless you let the chemo do its work.

Absurd right?

12-Step dogma

Everyone wants to know if they can become addicted

Unfortunately, if you replace the cancer above with addiction, the chemotherapy with the 12-steps, and the doctor with 12-step dogma, you have what we know as the ________ Anonymous model (fill in your favorite blank). It’s even written in what 12-steppers call The Big Book (officially called “Alcoholics Anonymous”) and often read as part of the “How it Works” section.

“Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves… They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.”

Well, as far as I’m concerned, this is where the 12 steps lose credibility with me. In any other field, if one treatment doesn’t work, another one is tried, and another. Different people with different conditions may need slightly different approaches. If no known treatment works, experimental ones are attempted. This is how medical science advances. Still, the notion of a physician blaming the patient for a treatment not working is ridiculous. There’s an entire field built around intervention research and I’m pretty sure that simply dismissing the patient as constitutionally dishonest isn’t a common technique.

Treating chronic conditions

In diabetes, like in addiction, there is a rate of compliance with prescribed treatment. And just like among addicts, that rate is relatively low, averaging around 30% or less. Relapse is also pretty common in other chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, and rests around 50%-60%, not far from estimates for addiction.

Some patients are better at following one regimen while others do better with a different schedule, different doses, or different treatment methods altogether. Similarly, while some addicts respond beautifully to CBT, it seems to help some very little. The same is true for the 12-steps, religion, and a host of other practices. As far as I’m concerned, this means that when an addict seeks treatment, their provider should take a good assessment of the issues, prescribe the treatment that seems to fit best, but if that one doesn’t work, try another method, not throw them out because the favorite approach didn’t cut it.

12-step Dogma Vs. Progress

And therein lies the problem with the 12-steps, whether supporters acknowledge the religious nature of the program or not is tangential, the important thing is that they cling to a book written decades ago much like believers hold onto a bible. Both are collections of stories and messages passed on that no one is willing to re-examine and, if needed, change. Medical texts, and indeed any textbook seeking to stay relevant, stay current by issuing new editions that incorporate new knowledge, but the 12-steps haven’t been touched since 1939, or since the beginning of world war II!!!

Advancement requires flexibility

1939 was an important year, with the 3rd Reich beginning its exploits, Steinbecks’s “Grapes of Wrath” seeing its first publication (another book without major edits since), the first stocking ever sold, and the emerging use of penicillin. I think many of us would agree that there have been some serious advances since that time.

When it comes to addiction, those advances include our vastly improved understanding of the neuroscience, genetics, and general brain function involved. Additionally, the development of very effective treatment modalities, like Motivational Interviewing (MI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Contingency Management (CM), has given providers a much more complete toolbox with which to deal with addiction problems. Unfortunately, many within the 12-step community have never heard of any of these methods, or of the use of medications (like Bupropion) to help with cravings. Personally, I think that’s just sad.

How it works. Really.

It’s time to dust off the covers, and incorporate the 12-steps into the bigger picture of addiction treatment. When 12-steppers wonder why people can’t just see the value of the program, I automatically think of the preacher who sat in on of my addiction class and kept yelling that if only addicts accepted Jesus into their lives, they would be saved. Laugh all you want, but not only did the 12-steppers dismiss him, they missed an opportunity. He had a point- those who accept Jesus into their lives fully may succeed in recovering from addiction on that basis alone – but those who fail to do so should be given every other treatment tool available so that they may also.

This is supposed to be the age of inclusion, a time for Change with a capital “C.” Let’s make ourselves proud and help those suffering by making sure that we’re offering every treatment option possible.

Creating a better system of addiction treatment: Matching rehabs to patients

I can’t hide it any longer, I just have to confess: I hate the way addiction treatment is managed nowadays. With over 25 million people meeting criteria for addictions in the U.S., only 10% are seeking treatment on a yearly basis. Sure, part of the problem is that others just don’t want it, at least yet, but there’s something else going on and it’s terrible.

The horrible pain of finding addiction treatment

If you, or someone you know, needs help for an addiction, your options aren’t just limited, they’re hard to find and are simply too stressful to deal with. Where do you even start? Most people wouldn’t dare go to their neighbors or family members with something like “Bobby is really struggling with his cocaine problem, do you have an idea of what we should do?” Instead, everyone is left fending for themselves, scared of going to doctors for fear of later insurance trouble, ashamed to admit their difficulties for fear of being stigmatized, and inundated with conflicting information about their chances for recovery if they do seek help.

So people go online, they seek out information, and they call provider after provider, often getting only partial semi-truths. At the end, most are left confused and the rest simply check in to the first place that will take them given their financial reality. Could you imagine if the same were true when someone broke their leg?

But isn’t addiction treatment really useless?

No, it’s not. Treatment works. It’s just that most people don’t get the treatment they need and end up paying the price (literally and figuratively). Well guess what, help is possible, it’s available, and it shouldn’t be this damn hard to find!

I think it’s about time we create a system that makes it easy for those suffering from addiction to find the right treatment for them. Not everyone needs treatment that costs $50,000 a month, and to be perfectly honest, that treatment is rarely better than much cheaper options. Still, no one would know that given bogus advertisements by rich addiction-industry-players that promise cures and fixes. The truth is that recovery is a difficult road and that different individuals may need different treatment.

Still, we know things that work: CBT works, motivational interviewing works, social-support, contingency-management, exercise, meditation, and specific medications work! So why is it that the addiction treatment industry still looks like something put together by a couple of addicts who suffer from too much self-focus and not enough organizational-capacity? Well, probably because that’s exactly our reality at the moment.

How can we make things better? Matching rehabs to patients

I say it’s time for a new age, especially given the passage of mental-health and addiction parity laws and the slow, but eventual inclusion of our most vulnerable citizens in the American health care system. As addiction-treatment becomes (finally) incorporated with medical care, the increased resources are going to mean an increased need for some standardization. It’s time for us to put people in treatment that works, that everyone can afford, and that is easy to find.

We’re currently testing a system that will use some basic, and some a bit more advanced, criteria to help direct addicts towards the right provider for them. Don’t have much money and working full-time? Then residential treatment should probably not be your first choice? Medicated for schizophrenia? You better stay away from providers that don’t offer serious mental health services (though they’ll sure take you if you walk through their doors)

We’re still figuring out the kinks, trying to improve the system even further than its current state, which I think is nothing short of magical. Eventually, I hope that it will be available for everyone, giving people real, reliable, objective access to addiction-treatment providers that do good work across the united States. It’s that easy to find a condo to buy, why shouldn’t it be that easy to find help?

Yes, I have almost 10 years of research experience into what works, but in truth, most of the issues here probably don’t require that at all. What’s needed is a little big-picture thinking and a little less fine-tooth combing. Hospitals can triage people based on a pretty quick, efficient, assessment. We can too.

How can you offer addiction help?

The question that seems to be on everybody’s mind (except perhaps that of the addict), is:

SO HOW CAN I HELP ?!?!?

– One of the first things you must do if you want to help someone with an addiction is to educate yourself. Obviously, you are already beginning the process by reading blogs like this along with, hopefully, finding other resources online. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have some great information that will no doubt be useful!

– While you’ll learn a lot throughout this process, don’t expect that the addict will be as excited about your learning as you may be. You are learning so that you understand what addiction entails. Remember that addiction is a disease of the brain and that the drugs, or alcohol, have a grip on your loved one that is more than simply moral. There are actual changes in neurological (brain) circuits that are caused by heavy drug use and that affect the user’s ability to quit (look for my educational posts on drug addiction).

Behavior is guided by rewards and punishments. This is something that we’ve learned over and over in psychological research. While it may seem difficult, decide on what you’re willing to accept and what you aren’t, and stick by those rules. I don’t necessarily believe in the punishment idea in this context because it can seriously strain relationships. However, if you go the the mostly-reward-route, make sure that you only reward behavior that is healthy, like decisions not to use. If “using behavior” is sometimes rewarded (like when you feel really bad for the user), the mixed message will make it much harder to change the behavior later.

– I also don’t necessarily believe in the al-anon method of detachment. My own story would have turned out very differently had my family not been there to catch me when I had my last, huge, fall. If you choose to detach though, decide for yourself if this is a temporary solution or if you want to do so permanently. Drug users are great manipulators and if you think that a night of “I’m not talking to you,” may be enough, you are sorely mistaken…

Intervention Hell

– When it comes to interventions, everyone always thinks of the stereotypical kind now immortalized in the A&E television show. That sort of intervention is known as th Johnson Institute method. Nevertheless, it’s far from the only one and has actually been shown to be marginally effective. Remember that any attempt to alter behavior is considered an intervention. The act of rewarding positive decisions I’d mentioned above would alter behavior in ways that are slower, but most likely more long lasting, all while introducing less strain on the relationship, at least in the short run. Another type of technique that I prefer when it comes to getting resistant addicts into treatment is called Motivational Interviewing. Make sure to ask anyone you approach for treatment whether they use this technique. It’s been shown to greatly improve addicts’ own motivation to enter treatment and when they want it themselves they’re more likely to benefit from it.

As always, if you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me.

Be strong, and most importantly, don’t blame yourself for what’s going on, but be aware of your role in the relationship and know what you can change about your part.

Good Luck!