From Psychology Today:
Professional substance abuse treatment far outweighs self-help techniques
I love the outdoors and self-help books (shout out to the amazing Brene Brown) and I truly believe that the outdoors can heal a broken heart; however, I continually hear other individuals state how being outside or reading a self-help book or signing up for a yoga class can cure depression, addiction and even eating disorders. This false information not only makes me angry, but it makes me sad for all the other individuals who believe this. Yes, self-help books, the outdoors, meditation and yoga are great adjunctive treatment approaches when combined with medication and psychotherapy and yes, the outdoors does have the potential to boost your mood and improve your happiness; I even wrote about my own personal experience here, but to say self-help can cure addiction and mental health disorders is not only a stretch but is misleading. If you come across someone who says, “My depression or heroin abuse was cured by a self-help book or from spending time in nature;” I strongly urge to ask the following:
- Were you diagnosed with this disorder by a mental health professional?
- Did you ever seek some type of therapy or take any sort of medication?
Why self-help works, but not for addiction or mental health disorders
If self-help books work for relationships, finances, career prospects and the power of attraction, why can’t self-help replace addiction treatment? Self-help is particularly successful in relationships, finances and career issues because the desire to share helpful tools and life-changing solutions with others is very powerful.
We live in a proactive society with infinite knowledge at the click of a mouse or a conversation with Siri. We are strides ahead of past generations, with enough innovation to make your head spin. We have the ability to spend time outdoors, go to a yoga class, practice self-care and read all the information written by professionals pertaining to addiction, and yet self-help pertaining to substance abuse disorders requires external professional help that involves detoxification, individual therapy, family therapy, aftercare and space to address physical dependency, trauma, broken connections, and the importance of long-term abstinence. Self-help can be used as a preventative measure to avoid a substance abuse disorder but once the individual is addicted to their choice substance of abuse, self-help is no longer helpful and here’s why:
Why self-treatment does not work for addiction
Self-help methods are helpful for some individuals who are dealing with issues that may pertain to their stress and relationships however these individuals must be strong enough and have enough personal insight to be able to acknowledge their problem, articulate their problem, dedicate the time and energy to achieving their desired outcome and then share their results with others. The obsessions, compulsions, and loneliness associated with addiction prevent individuals in the real world to be able to think in a rational and cognitive way and connect with others. Individuals with addiction are no longer in control of their disorder because their disorder has hijacked their brain. The overflow of dopamine when the abused drug enters the body is so strong that the user is unable to simply walk away from this euphoric high without any type of long-term professional intervention, not to mention that some chemical withdrawals can be life-threatening. The desire to continue to use and use again is so strong that it can re-wire the brain to the point that no amount of self-help books, yoga or nature can work to uncover the underlying triggers of why the addiction started in the first place.
- Physical dependency on drugs and alcohol cause the “next fix” to be the highest priority regardless of the consequences.
- Home detoxification has low success rates and often leads to relapse simply because the impulsivity of the addicted brain runs rampant, not to mention home detoxification can be life-threatening.
- Drugs interfere with the communication system of the brain, hindering the performance of neurons, hijacking any sense of ration and control, thereby impairing the decision-making process while losing control of normal mental functioning.
- Self-help addiction treatment lacks the foundation of recovery: connection to others
The importance of professional addiction treatment
Substance abuse treatment is a long-term process that involves a stepwise treatment regimen beginning with detoxification. Detoxification involves eliminating the abused substance from the body which depends on the individual and the drug can take anywhere from 3 days to 7 days. Detoxification can be extremely painful and even lethal and therefore it is never recommended that any individual undergoes detoxification at home but rather enters into a professional treatment center where they can be monitored and given medication to ease their withdrawal symptoms. Many treatment programs use medication-assisted therapy (MAT) which involves prescribing a slow taper of medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms and prevent any life-threatening side effects. Benzodiazepines, methadone, naltrexone, and Suboxone are all popular medications administered to individuals who are addicted to alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids.
A temporary or permanent environment change does wonders for addiction treatment, primarily because a change in the environment often leads to a shift in perspective. The individual escapes from the negativity, the drug connections, the “bad influences” and the same unhealthy routine.
Additionally, professional treatment provides a safe space in the presence of others giving the individuals the ability to connect with others around them. A connection is extremely important in the drug addiction treatment process, as the lack of connection will often push the individual further into their addiction.
One of the largest components of professional addiction treatment is uncovering the individual’s underlying triggers that caused them to become addicted in the first place. Past trauma, low self-esteem, mental health disorders, eating disorders, childhood abuse, interpersonal conflicts can all be directly linked to substance abuse. Uncovering and recognizing these underlying triggers requires a professional eye, hours of therapy and a clear, sober mind. The client must become aware of his/her triggers and learn positive coping skills to deal with these triggers during their road to recovery.