Habits and Behaviors - Treatment for addiction

Whether a person is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction, it is clear that treatment is necessary for successful recovery. Going "cold turkey," the idea of abruptly quitting using a substance without any treatment, only works for a very small minority. Many people believe in the saying "once an addict, always an addict." That is, recovery from addiction is thought to be a lifelong process and not one that stops once an addict initially stops using. Many former addicts who have been substance-free for years still consider themselves in recovery. There are many options and theories about recovery available to addicts who seek help.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most famous treatment organization in the world. AA meetings take place just about everywhere in the United States each day and in other countries as well. AA is based on a twelve-step recovery plan. The steps successful members of AA have completed are as follows:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such a people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

These steps have been modified and used by many other recovery programs for all different types of addictions. AA is a plan for self-reflection and taking responsibility. Some people are uncomfortable with the word God, and the reference to God as a Him. Those individuals can substitute other words for any spiritual language, and the steps can still work for them.

Abstinence from all alcohol is a requirement for those in AA. New members are given a sponsor, a recovering alcoholic (called such because many former alcoholics feel they are always in recovery) who can lead them through the process. The sponsor stands by to assist the new members. If they feel they might relapse (that is, return to drinking), they are told to call their sponsor right away for guidance.


On its web site (http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org) Alcoholics Anonymous has a questionnaire for teens. If teens take the quiz and answer even one question with a "yes," they are directed to explore whether they might have a serious problem with alcohol.

A Simple 12-Question Quiz Designed To Help You Decide

  1. Do you drink because you have problems? To relax?
  2. Do you drink when you get mad at other people, your friends or parents?
  3. Do you prefer to drink alone, rather than with others?
  4. Are your grades starting to slip? Are you goofing off on your job?
  5. Did you ever try to stop drinking or drink less—and fail?
  6. Have you begun to drink in the morning, before school or work?
  7. Do you gulp your drinks?
  8. Do you ever have loss of memory due to your drinking?
  9. Do you lie about your drinking?
  10. Do you ever get into trouble when you're drinking?
  11. Do you get drunk when you drink, even when you don't mean to?
  12. Do you think it's cool to be able to hold your liquor?

Methadone Maintenance

Methadone maintenance is a popular treatment for heroin addicts. Methadone is a substitute drug for heroin. It is prescribed and distributed in a controlled environment. It helps to alleviate the severe symptoms of withdrawal from heroin, without enforcing abstinence. The goal of methadone maintenance is to wean a heroin addict from heroin and then, ultimately, from methadone, which does not have as severe withdrawal symptoms as does heroin. Widespread HIV infection among heroin addicts (from sharing dirty needles) increased the acceptance of methadone maintenance as a treatment for addiction in the United States. (European countries have used this treatment for years without problem.)


Intervention is a popular mode of treatment for addiction and other negative behavioral problems. Intervention is an organized visit upon the afflicted individual by friends and loved ones. Often a counselor is present and counselors almost always help in planning the meeting. The intervention is designed to confront the addicted individual in a nonjudgmental fashion. The group offers caring, guidance, and love to the person being confronted. The group tells the individual that they are aware of the addiction and that they care for the person and want him or her to seek help and get better. Often an intervention helps addicts realize that their addiction is not a secret and that they are affecting their loved ones' lives. An intervention also sometimes backfires and causes the subject of the intervention to become immediately defensive and storm out of the meeting. That is why taking this approach needs to be considered very carefully and should involve a trained substance abuse counselor (see Chapter 7: Health Care Careers for information on substance abuse counselors).

Other Treatment Considerations

Anyone suffering from addiction and attempting to recover will experience a certain degree of pain and discomfort. The person must believe that kicking the habit is worth it, though, and be willing to ride out the discomfort to reach sobriety. While this is much easier said than done, there are some tools that recovering addicts can use to make the road to recovery a little smoother.

It makes sense for all people to eat right and get a healthy amount of sleep, but for those that have been abusing their bodies with a substance, healthy eating is even more important. Vitamin C can be of great help in flushing the toxic substance out of the system. It cleanses the tissues. Essential fatty acids, such as those found in flax oil (this can be found at the health food store), are really important and will also help to detoxify the system. Flax oil is best mixed with yogurt. Exercise is also vital for the recovering addict. Sweating will help cleanse the toxins out of the body, and getting the heart rate up and the muscles moving will uplift and heal the ailing body.

ACUPUNCTURE. Acupuncture is being used more and more often with addicts to ward off cravings. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of placing tiny, painless needles in strategic points all over the body. The points correspond to energy meridians, and they restore balance to the body. Ear point acupuncture is often offered in methadone clinics for heroin addicts. In clinics in Oregon, heroin addicts are required to try acupuncture before getting methadone.

MEDITATION. Meditation is focusing intently on one sound, idea, image or goal. For a person recovering from addiction, meditation can be extremely difficult. It can also be extremely valuable. When someone stops to look at waves crashing on the beach or a candle flame or even a tree in the park, often that person will enter into a trance-like state. This is a form of meditation. Artists of all types often become so involved it the act of making art that it becomes a meditation.

Concentration is one of the most difficult tasks for recovering addicts. Thoughts and obsessions run like wildfire through the mind. Meditating is like going on vacation in the mind even while the body is stuck in one spot. Meditation also helps with insomnia (sleeplessness), a problem for many recovering addicts. Meditation before bed (but not in bed) helps to create deep and peaceful sleep.

MANTRAS. A mantra is simply a sound, word, or phrase that is repeated over and over as during meditation. A lot of people think the best mantras are the ones that have no distinct meaning, the ones that are simply sounds. (For instance, the sound "ohm" is a popular choice.) This is so that the meditator will not begin thinking about meditation. The goal of meditation is to go to a place of focus where passing, neurotic thoughts do not interfere with relaxation.


The first thing one needs to do is find a safe, quiet space where one will not be disturbed. (Meditation in bed is not recommended.) Sometimes people use a meditation cushion to sit on (this can simply be a pillow or couch cushion). Comfort is essential for meditation. Sitting in a chair, or against the wall if this is more comfortable, is fine, too. Having the feet fall asleep can get in the way of the practice.

Meditation begins by breathing. Breathing should be natural and one should try to be aware of each breath taken. Then the mantra should be repeated, over and over, slowly, in the mind. Obsessive thoughts may creep into the mind during meditation. Meditation teachers suggest that those starting a practice should try to let their thoughts go and use the metaphor of the movie screen. Some people like to pretend that their mind is a movie screen and that the thoughts passing are not their own. This is a good way to detach from painful thoughts. When people try to control their thoughts, or punish themselves for their thoughts, they have a lot of trouble with meditation. Gentle return to the mantra is suggested when thoughts stray. It is important not to get frustrated because thoughts will naturally stray. Twenty minutes per session is usually recommended, but five minutes is good for a starting practice. Healing may not be immediate with meditation, but recovering addicts who have learned to meditate report tremendous benefits from their practice.

The most important factors in healing from addiction are honesty and love of self. Without those fundamental foundations, no treatment plan can work. Once the addict admits to being sick and needing help, he or she is ready to begin the long road to feeling whole again. The addiction has likely become a great comfort to the addict, something he believes he can't do without. Giving up that idea and letting go of the substance itself is not easy. But it can be done, and it is done every day. The happiness that will come as a result of being free from addiction makes the pain of letting go far more than worth it. Just as getting hooked changed one's life, it will change again, for the better, by kicking the addiction.

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