September is National Recovery Month: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors National Recovery Month to raise awareness of disorders related to substance use and mental health. This month is also a time to celebrate those who have recovered. The SAMHSA’s annual Recovery Month theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities. Although it may seem that treatment and recovery are synonymous, they are not. Therefore, it is imperative that caregivers who work in the substance use world know the difference between treatment and recovery.

Treatment vs. Recovery

Treatment and recovery mean two very different things: Treatment refers to the time when an individual resides within a treatment center or is actively participating in an outpatient treatment program, whereas recovery represents the time following his or her successful completion of the inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

According to the study The Neurobiology of Addiction: The Perspective From Magnetic Resonance Imaging Present and Future, physical changes occur in the brain of individuals who are suffering from addiction. These changes affect the way the brain works. Areas visibly altered include those responsible for decision making, judgment, memory, learning and behavior. Unfortunately, the chronic nature of addiction means a relapse is possible. However, just like with many other chronic diseases, continued care can be used to manage addiction, which decreases the chance that an individual will relapse.

Addiction Is a Lifelong Disease Requiring Continued Care

Following inpatient treatment, most individuals feel a sense of enthusiasm and a drive to remain sober; nevertheless, remaining sober after returning home can be challenging. Maintaining long-term recovery is difficult for a number of reasons: First and foremost is the fact that addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease. Just like diabetes and asthma, addiction is incurable. Therefore, it requires a lifetime of continued treatment.

A Comprehensive Approach During Recovery Offers Promising Results

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that success rates increase when medications are used in conjunction with behavioral therapy. During structured treatment programs, individuals are able to regain control of their life by disrupting the drug’s ability to affect the brain. However, once patients complete their drug treatment program, it is vital that they continue down the path of recovery, which can be accomplished by utilizing a comprehensive approach.

Encourage Patients to Continue Using the Tools They Learned During Treatment

Applying the techniques used during their inpatient treatment in the real world will assist patients in remaining sober. For example, while an inpatient, individuals participate in group therapy sessions as a means to provide support for one another. Similar outpatient activities include attending Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Patients who have a history of abusing alcohol should contact their local AA organization to inquire about upcoming meetings. Those with a history of drug use need to search the NA World Services’ website to find a meeting in their area. On average, drug counselors recommend that individuals attend at least one meeting every week.

  • Individualized Drug Counseling Must Continue After Inpatient Treatment
    • Although individualized drug counseling focuses on the patient’s desire to stop using illicit drugs and/or alcohol, it addresses other areas as well. These areas include the structure and content of the patient’s recovery program, impaired functioning, family and social relations, as well as illegal activity. Individualized counseling assists the patient by emphasizing the importance of making short-term behavioral goals in addition to developing tools and strategies to remain sober. Addiction counselors can also refer patients to other health professionals and assist them with finding gainful employment.
  • Remind Patients With a Dual Diagnosis to Resume Their Individual Therapy Sessions
    • Many individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol also have some other mental health disorder. When patients receive a dual diagnosis, it is vital that they seek individual therapy with a licensed mental health professional to continue treatment following rehab.
  • Patients Need to Take Their Medication as Prescribed
    • Even after leaving rehab, the majority of patients will continue taking prescription medications. These medications may change throughout recovery; however, it is essential that caregivers stress the importance of the continued use of prescription medication as instructed by the patient's doctor.

Some Tips Caregivers Can Provide Patients to Help Them Remain Sober

To remain sober, an individual recovering from addiction has to make a variety of changes. These changes include socializing with individuals who do not use drugs or drink alcohol, as well as avoiding the places where drugs and/or alcohol are used. Because of these changes, it is not uncommon for individuals recovering from addiction to find themselves feeling lonely, bored, depressed and anxious. Caregivers can help their patients by providing them with some tips to ease boredom and relieve stress.

  • One day at a time:
    • Although this expression is a cliché, patients need to take their continued sobriety one day at a time. By concentrating on making it through the day without taking drugs or drinking alcohol, chances are the patient will feel less overwhelmed. As each day passes, one day becomes a week, one week becomes a month and one month becomes an entire year and so on. If a patient feels overwhelmed, his or her sobriety is at risk.
  • Take up a hobby:
    • Since individuals recovering from addiction previously associated fun with drinking alcohol and/or using drugs, they need to learn how to enjoy themselves without these substances. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with a hobby. Drawing, painting, putting puzzles together or volunteering are great ways to stay busy and feel accomplished.
  • A slip is not a relapse, it is just an error:
    • No matter how hard a patient tries, there is a good chance that, at some point throughout recovery, he or she will slip up. Regardless of the reason, caregivers need to help patients understand that one slip up does not mean they have relapsed. Furthermore, patients should be encouraged to rededicate themselves to remaining sober.

Discuss the Common Causes of Relapse and Provide Inspiration

Understandably, triggers for relapse typically include being in the presence of drugs and/or revisiting the people and places where previous drug experiences occurred. Mood can also play a role in relapse. However, the good news is that science is continually developing medications designed to interfere with these common triggers and assist individuals with maintaining their sobriety.