The History and Stigma of Addiction: The Flawed Individual
By 1974, the American Medical Association had officially recognized alcoholism and drug addiction as forms of chronic and progressive brain disease. This classification by the AMA helped lift much of the stigma around the medical field’s understanding of substance abuse thus lending credibility to the field of addiction treatment. Despite decades of research, large segments of the general public still believe that the addict or alcoholic possesses inherent character flaws which lead to his or her substance use disorder.
Furthermore, as a society, we tend to punish the addict, failing to understand the underlying factors that influence drug-seeking behavior. Effective treatment must include an understanding of the unique attributes that contribute to the manifestation of the disease of addiction, individualized recovery plans, and comprehensive follow-up to ensure longterm success.
Healing the Individual in Treatment
An effective, holistic approach to treating addiction depends on a biological, psychological, and social model of assessment and implementation. First, from a biological perspective, the treatment team must understand that there are genetic factors which influence each individual’s predisposition to addiction. Important considerations include family history and how intergenerational drug and alcohol abuse can influence hereditary manifestation of the disease.
Next, the treatment team must examine the psychological components of addiction and how the presence of other mental health-related disorders can co-occur and contribute to prolonged drug and alcohol use. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that “people with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder” (SAMHSA, 2014, Co-occurring disorders section). Thus, clinicians must understand each client’s complex psychological make-up, tailoring medication management and therapy accordingly. Lastly, the treatment staff needs to explore each patient’s social history and current social environment. For example, how do family and peer dynamics contribute to this individual’s drug and alcohol abuse? How do we help clients understand their social triggers and support them as they prepare for discharge from the facility?
Preparing the Individual for The “Real World”
One of the primary benefits of addiction treatment is that we can provide a safe atmosphere of recovery for our clients, away from the harmful environments that trigger cravings and compulsions to self-medicate. Even in intensive outpatient treatment settings, each client maintains ongoing support and a routine schedule to ensure a healthier environment for recovery. As clients gain distance from unhealthy environmental influences, the treatment team can work with them to personalize discharge plans to support their ongoing recovery. Prior to discharge, the treatment team works with each client to set follow-up appointments, establish environmental support, and practice healthy boundary-setting, ensuring a greater degree of confidence in one’s recovery and improving one’s likelihood of long-term sobriety.