We’ve learned more about the human brain in the last five years, than all the years preceding. Yet we’re still just scratching the surface of understanding brain operations and functioning in relation to behavior, thought, and action.
Despite the latest science-based discoveries, systems that were set in place decades ago continue to be broadly prescribed without examining the foundation by which they were created.
Our western substance addiction treatment system is a key example.
Addiction Recovery in a Flawed System
Alcohol Podcast 2 of 4
This broken system of treating addiction is why the power duo, Mike Pond and Maureen Palmer took it upon themselves to meet with leading experts on neuroscience that reveal shocking findings on brain’s relationship with alcohol. Together they wrote the book, Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System and also produced the documentary, Wasted that chronicles Mike’s life-threatening struggle and how he discovered alternate ways to help with his Alcohol Use Disorder after the traditional methods failed him.
I was graciously invited to their home to eat some fresh strawberries and ask about their story. After hearing what they discovered, I left better understanding how to best approach helping anyone suffering from substance abuse. Enjoy.
If we’re not changing, we’re dying.
The majority of doctors, lawyers, and judges can only rely on what has historically worked. Which is why over 90% of those seeking help with an alcohol addiction are still sent to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-step recovery program. Yet our culture hugely over-estimates the program’s effectiveness. AA’s own 2014 survey suggests that 27% of patients are sober after one year of treatment and some of the world’s most learned addiction experts suggest AA works at best, for about 30 percent after one year. Leaving the majority often feeling like failures for not being able to fully committing to the program. And leaving them with nothing else.
Judges are practicing medicine and doctors are practicing law. Mike Pond
This is why only 10-20% of those battling a substance use disorder disclose their illness. They see those who “fail” at traditional programs stigmatized and ordered by doctors and judges to keep going, even though there’s no evidence the program is working. Tragically, people die because they “can’t make the program work.”
Mike even witnessed a young man hang himself in a recovery treatment center because he was shamed by fellow residents and the staff.
What can we do then, as individuals left with no choice but to rely on the systems in place? Fortunately, there are science-based, proven medical alternatives.
A Science-based Treatment to Addiction
Support Science-backed Findings on Addiction
The average doctor only gets four hours of addiction treatment training in medical school. Best estimates suggest approximately only 5% of these doctors know about or prescribe medications proven to reduce cravings and lessen the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal.
To ensure others know about evidence-based alternatives they created, Mike and Maureen creating AddictionTheNextStep.com, partnering with a Vancouver company called Magnify Digital to build the site. Here you can find research, resources, and most importantly, a proven on-line therapy tool designed exclusively for those who love a substance user and want to help them get well.
Just a bit of Googling will reveal other organizations like SMART Recovery that are up-to-date with latest science-backed discoveries and embrace change.
Early Intervention with Social Science
With most serious illness we intervene early and aggressively. With addiction, we wait until the sufferer hits rock bottom. Yet we know enough to intervene early. Dr. Marc Schuckit, one of the world’s great addiction and genetics researchers, estimates addiction is 60 percent genetics, 40 percent environment. Recognizing inherited character traits that predispose people to addiction (e.g. impulsivity, anxiety, sensation seeking) means we can target certain populations with additional early resources.
It would also prevent society’s waste of millions of dollars on traditional recovery programs that are much less effective.
These concentric circles of damage from addiction emanate so much farther and wider than cancer or heart attack, yet they not attacked with the same level of intensity and resource. Maureen Palmer
A Compassion-based Treatment to Addiction
As a therapist and someone who battled substance use, Mike offers unique perspective on how current treatment models failed him. Here’s how he and Maureen suggest approaching and helping a friend in need:
Just be there for them.
Let them know you’re concerned (privately) and you’re available for them. Let them know you care and love them. Stay in touch. A simple kind gesture at the right time will make someone’s day and can even save a life.
No shaming and no blaming.
The more someone is shamed for their addiction, the worst it gets. Recognize addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder and that falling off the wagon is actually a symptom of the illness. Treatment needs to address the reasons why someone may have relapsed and build in extra supports to best their chances of staying well.
Don’t measure success by abstinence.
Dr. Keith Humphreys, former advisor to the Obama administration on alcohol and drug policy, beautifully states that success should be defined by the health and well-being of the person battling a substance use disorder and the health of those around them.
Know there’s always hope.
Hopelessness is a dangerous condition that stems from ignorance and loneliness. When hope drys out, depression set in. No matter the situation, hold fast through the ups and downs that there is always a chance for someone to turn their life around. Maybe all they need to do that is a little faith and encouragement from a friend.
Mike and Maureen’s pursuit of beating addiction is reconfirming that there is no perfect path. What worked for someone doesn’t mean it’s going to work for someone else. With compassion for ourselves and others hope for progress is limitless.
If this sparks some thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.