Addiction and Rehab – A Holistic Approach

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It’s a safe bet that we all know someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse has become a major health problem worldwide and vast research projects are being conducted regarding both prevention and treatment.

Exactly what is addiction?  The American Psychiatric Association says that a person is addicted if their pattern of substance use leads to clinically significant impairment or distress shown by three or more of the following in a 12-month period:

  • More and more of the substance is needed to get the desired effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms appear if the substance is not taken.
  • Loss of control – you will do whatever it takes to get the substance. The substance is now in control.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance or recover from its effects.
  • The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

Significant changes occur in the brain of a person who abuses alcohol or drugs over an extended period of time. These changes have to do primarily with judgment and the experience of pleasure. If treatment is started in time and a substance free lifestyle is maintained, many of these changes can be reversed. The longer the addiction is continued the more severe and permanent the brain changes become.

So, What about Treatment and Rehab?

If a person has reached the point where he or she can no longer feel pleasure of any kind without the substance and his judgment is severely impaired, where does the treatment program start?  What is the starting place for a person who is in denial, experiencing physical and emotional pain, consumed with guilt and probably anger, feels like a failure and is embarrassed in front of his/her family and friends? Self esteem is usually at an all time low and there may be multiple health problems associated with poor diet and health habits. He is probably financially depleted and may or may not still have a job. Looking at the situation holistically, there is no part of him that isn’t affected and the treatment program must be holistic if it is to be successful. Keeping him in the program long enough for recovery to take place is the challenge.

Before rehab can start, treatment should begin by keeping him safe from further abuse and from withdrawal symptoms that could have major health consequences and/or result in death. Once he is stabilized an ideal treatment program will address all facets of that speficif individual. One size does not fit all.
The starting place is physical: (You can’t get well if you feel like crap.) He must have a balanced, healthy diet and learn how to provide this for himself. He needs a regular exercise program to build physical stamina and a feeling of physical well being. He needs to be able to sleep.  And he may need treatment of medical issues that have developed during the addiction period. Other components of the program will not be effective until he is healthy enough to benefit from them.

Assuming that he has the desire to be well, when he is healthy enough and drug/alcohol free you can begin to address the other areas:

  • Emotional/psychological
  • Interpersonal/Social
  • Financial
  • Mental/educational
  • Spiritual

A good treatment program will include alternative/complementary components as well as the standard one-on-one and group therapy/counseling.  Incorporating such components as nutrition, meditation, hypnotherapy, visualization, journaling, positive thinking, humor and music will help chip away at the need for substances to feel good and help substitute healthy behaviors for those that are no longer desired. Until he can feel pleasure and enjoyment again without the substance and experience some feeling of self worth, it will be difficult to progress to full health. He may also need education (especially if he cannot read or write) and may need to learn job skills.

With all these combined into one comprehensive program, the key component is still missing and that component is love. Love is the universal healer. Both love from others and love for self are necessary. The program needs to help him love himself and work with his family and significant others to help love be given and received by a family that has probably come “to the end of its rope.” They need to learn to show love even when he is the most unlovable.

Finally, a more effective treatment program is built on the new positive psychology approach that asks “What is right about me and what are my strengths?” rather than the question “What’s the matter with me?”  The human mind is a powerful tool and, if given the right “food” can be used as an instrument of self healing. It needs to be feed a diet that builds up rather than tears down. Positive psychology does just that.

Where is a program that does all that? The answer may be “It is yet to be designed.”  Start with a program that is built on a positive psychology and go from there. Add those components that work for the persona and his own specific and individual needs. A full program coupled with his desire to be well will almost always bring about the desired results.

Irene Conlan

Irene Conlan has a master's degree in nursing, She taught nursing at Arizona State University, served as Director of Nursing Administration at St. Luke's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and served as Assistant Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services for the Division of Health Care Facilities and Emergency Medical Services. Now retired, she is an avid blogger and manages http://www.theselfimprovementblog.com,http://www.theselfesteemblog.com and hosts the Self Improvement Radio Show on VoiceAmerica. Irene lives in Fountain Hills, AZ and has two sons and four grandsons.