Monthly Archives: April 2015

Stepping Onto The Path of Recovery

the-pathAn important consideration in examining the disease of addiction is the recognition that “recovery” is an incremental process. Many people facing their addiction will experience brief setbacks, and some will struggle for years before they are able to remain on the path of positive change.

As a counselor, I have listened to many recovering individuals talk about their resistance to change. Addiction is a persistent disease of disruptive thinking and behavior highly subject to repetition. Addicts will repeat the same bad “choices” as a result of many factors. Scientific research has shown that habitual patterns of behavior are neurochemically driven deep within the brain. These patterns can be reinforced by one’s social connections, immediate environment, and underlying belief system.

With severe levels of addiction sustained over years, it can become difficult for people to shift their lifestyle, thinking, and decision-making toward a healthy, recovery-oriented mindset. In 12 Step recovery, there is the popular expression called “hitting bottom”. This expression is typically used to describe a specific time in which a person has lost so much, or suffered such a painful crisis, that their readiness for change finally emerges. This window of opportunity is often times short-lived. Hitting bottom will compel some people to finally take the right action – to seek help – to admit they have a problem. If this happens, then a decision to step onto the path of recovery may actually occur.

Active addition is often characterized by a short range view in which consequences are not thoroughly considered. Focusing on consequences interferes with the compulsive desire to use. And even then, a recognition of consequences to oneself and family is often not enough to change the decision to get high. With opiate addiction, the decision to use is overwhelmingly controlled by opiate withdrawal sickness. This never-ending physical sickness takes people away from recovery and keeps them trapped in a desperate existence centered around doing whatever is necessary to avoid being “dope sick”.

Fortunately, this dilemma can be addressed through medication-assisted treatments (methadone, suboxone, naltrexone). These do not replace the need for a recovery program, but they become an important part of one’s overall personal recovery program. Staying on the path of recovery is the next critical phase after stepping onto the path. Medication-assisted treatment greatly aids recovering addicts in staying on the proper path. Science has proven that those with the greatest chance of long-term, successful sobriety are those that remain in treatment and recovery. Said differently, a person’s chance of recovery success is statistically improved the longer they remain in treatment.

When a person no longer has to face the crippling weight of daily withdrawal sickness, they have a chance to re-approach their overall recovery and the opportunities that lie ahead of them.

Reducing Risk of IV-Related Infections

drug-safetyOne of the risks associated with the progression of opioid addiction is the increased probability of an addicted person moving to injectable heroin as a last resort in dealing with opioid withdrawal. In the early years of methadone’s adoption in treatment centers, it was used primarily to help heroin addicted individuals detox from heroin and eventually remain heroin free.

While heroin is definitely resurfacing, the opioid epidemic of recent years has primarily been about prescription opioids taken orally. Following this pattern of use, users eventually discover that crushing and snorting pills is a more efficient means of getting an opioid into their system. Injecting is typically the last step in this progression of the disease of addiction.

But with injection comes a variety of new risks and health problems such as skin abscesses, localized infection at the site of injection, as well as hepatitis C (a viral infection of the liver) and HIV infection acquired through needle sharing with infected persons. A recent story in the news highlighted a sudden increase in HIV infections in Scott County (Indiana) in conjunction with the rise of opioid addiction there and injectable drug use.

Indiana’s governor has temporarily approved the use of needle exchange programs to help reduce the risk of virus transmission resulting from the use of dirty needles. The story indicated that the number of documented HIV infections had risen month over month. The county is presently trying to locate over 100 people who may have been exposed to the HIV virus in connection with injecting opiates.

Methadone and other medication-assisted treatments have been conclusively proven to reduce heroin/opiate relapse and injection drug use. For many individuals trapped in a daily cycle of perpetual drug abuse, the risk of acquiring a deadly infection increases with every day that they are not in treatment receiving help.

Treatment leads to recovery, and recovery leads to dramatic lifestyle change. Many patients who choose methadone as a tool in their personal recovery never go back to injecting drugs. This obviously is a life saving choice.

Someone recently stated “If you’re dead, you can’t recovery.” This is a rather blunt way of expressing a profound and meaningful truth. Addiction does rob loved ones, friends, family, and neighbors of life, health, and happiness. Recovery has the ability to restore all of these. Let us keep our minds and hearts open about the value of medication-assisted treatment. It is making a real difference for numerous people around the world.