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Recovery from Addiction & Measuring Success

“Successful” recovery from drugs or alcohol should not be indicated solely by the number of days sober. It should be marked by quality of life indicators such as goals and accomplishments and mental, emotional, and physical states.

In addiction treatment throughout Canada, we’re used to seeing a percentage linked to every program and facility not only in Vancouver but in cities throughout the country (usually on their websites). What does this percentage mean? It’s the centre’s success rate, and providers and users consider this an important indicator of an effective program. But is it really?

What are Success Rates for Addiction Recovery Based on?

Success rates are the numerical measurement of how many clients remain sober/abstinent after leaving a specific treatment program. These rates stem from prominent ideas of addiction such as:

  • Addiction as a disease
  • Addiction is in the drug

These ideas together give us the idea that addiction is an uncontrollable condition that requires a person to forever work at keeping it at bay.

Many popular programs are based on this idea too. For example, think of AA where members must commit to eternal sobriety (not that it’s a bad goal), a requirement that is often externally motivated by the risk of being rejected from the group and the perpetuated fear of returning to addiction beyond your control.

Is Abstinence the True Measure of Success?

While abstinence is an ideal goal (for all of us, not just people with alcohol or substance use issues), purely abstaining does not generally correlate with improved quality of life or personal meaning.

Among those in abstinence-focused recovery who are doing well, abstinence is not only the deciding factor of success. This is obvious in the fact that many people maintaining sobriety/abstinence return to substance use (sometimes referred to as relapse). If we only needed to achieve abstinence and then maintain it, then addiction wouldn’t be the problem it is. As we know, many people return to addiction after periods of abstinence or treatment.

Usually those with flourishing recoveries have incorporated necessary life changes such as maintaining harmonious relationships, maintaining healthy mental and physical health, engaging in quality self-reflection, developing and practicing personal values, and pursuing career goals that align with those personal values. Of course, there is likely some argument out there about which came first: abstinence or improved quality of life.

A Non 12-Step Program for Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation

So what do we do at SCHC? Since we follow a philosophy and approach in line with Viktor Frankl that views addiction as a lack of meaning (and when meaning is achieved, abstinence is a byproduct), our program assessments are based on how past clients are doing in various areas of their life like the ones noted above and if they improved, worsened, or remained the same.

We also check on abstinence, but it isn’t as significant as other quality of life indicators. We don’t put importance on abstinence like it is portrayed in the media or other well-known treatment programs. The reason for this, other than refraining from alcohol or drugs not being as important as doing well in life, is that 100% abstinence for the rest of a person’s life is extremely hard to maintain and sometimes unrealistic or unachievable.

For example, maybe you need to temporarily take prescription painkillers after an operation or for an injury. This would violate abstinence regardless of the fact that prescription opiates hold no significance for a person.

It also makes sense for process addictions. Since it’s unrealistic to ask a person treated for sex addiction to forever refrain from sex, or for a person treated for gambling addiction to refrain from handling money, it’s important to focus on creating a life that’s more important and meaningful to them then spending all their efforts on sex/sex-related behaviours or gambling.

Another example is opiate-replacement therapies such as Methadone or Suboxone. Abstinence as it is defined right now in the field is never truly achieved by these individuals, yet the therapy allows them to focus on important aspects of life such as securing housing, finding employment, reconnecting with family, etc.

We also have anecdotal reports that clients who are pursuing authentic, meaningful lives have been able to engage in occasional social drinking or use prescription medications temporarily without any problematic use.

This makes sense since addiction isn’t in the drug. It’s in the person, their life, their experiences, their perceptions, and much more. If you or your loved one are struggling with drugs, alcohol, or other types of addictions, reach out to us for a consultation. We have services in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and other cities, and our principal facility, of course, is in Powell River, British Columbia.

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