For individuals and the families of of individuals going through addiction treatment, the signs of progress can seem vague or relatively non-existent. However, medical doctors and psychologist have clear-cut evaluations for determining the progress of their patients. The assumption is that progress is made only through behavioral differences evident in the patient. This form of assessment is not always the first, or the most accurate, determining factor indicating that transformation is taking place. Often, the change begins on an emotional and psychological level, and the physical change in abstaining behaviors is the last manifestation of the progress that has been achieved.
The most effective treatment of addiction seeks to understand the cause of the problem rather than its symptoms. Addiction is typically a symptom of a much deeper problem that must be resolved. Treatment centers that focus merely on changing the outward behaviors of their patients experience a high rate of failure. An accurate metaphor would be to compare the process to pulling weeds out of the garden without actually taking out the root. You will be free from weeds for a certain amount of time, but they will always come back because the roots are still in the soil. The therapist takes this approach by attempting to engage the patients on the deep emotional levels where the addictive behavior is originating. This submerged aspect of the inner life of patients is where progress begins. The failure that many addicts experience is due to their frustration or lack of understanding of this process. Many will leave treatment if their symptomatic behaviors are not “cured” right away.
Cold Turkey Myths
In fact, it is the “moments of weakness” when a patient feels the urge to engage in their addiction that the most progress can be made on the emotional and psychological levels. While the addiction itself cannot be ignored, it is also not the primary focus of treatment. Research tells us that addicts who experience long-term recovery are not simply making a physical recovery. They are constructing a new emotional and psychological disposition which can provide them the strength they need as life moves forward. Without this reserve, patients are much more likely to fall back into their addictions when life presents them with obstacles.
It Takes a Village
Because of these common misconceptions regarding progress in addiction treatments, the family can become a huge obstacle for success. Most families assume that if addictive behavior continues in any form during treatment, then the process is not working. This is not the case, however. The danger in this occurrence resides in effecting the commitment of the patient to the progress. In many cases, the family is the primary support group outside of treatment. Once they lose faith in the process, it becomes even easier for the patient to give up hope as well.
From a clinical standpoint, it can be very difficult to measure emotional growth or change. This difficulty accounts for the primary reasons that many programs simply focus on the patient’s physical behavior. An emphasis on the therapeutic and psychological aspect of treatment becomes the most valuable tool for allowing an accurate assessment of this kind of progress. The process of educating the individual on the specifics of addiction are simply not enough to guarantee any real change. The healing process must take a much more holistic view. Because of this approach, progress itself must be measured much more organically.
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Shaun Revels is a substance abuse counselor and guest author at Best Addiction Counseling Degrees, where he contributed to the guide to the Top 10 Best Online Addiction Counseling Degree Programs.