The importance of group therapy in addiction recovery

“Hello, may name is ______ and I’m an alcoholic drug addict.”

Many of us have been in situations where we have had to utter these words. Sitting in a lazily-formed circle, looking around the room for answers in other’s faces and body language. We saw tired faces, weary from life. We’ve seen faces that looked happier than others, sleepy faces, scarred faces, scared faces, tattooed faces. We’ve seen legs shake in anticipation of speaking, or hands clutching the Big Book as if its the only thing tying that person to the planet.

We’ve been in group therapy.

According to an article in Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41group therapy, or group, can be incredibly rewarding for individuals recovering from addiction. These groups can reduce isolation and allow members to watch the recovery of their peers. The group format also addresses common symptoms accompanying drug addiction, such as depression and shame.

Having someone say, “Hey man, I’ve been there too.” Or, “I feel the same exact way!” Can be an incredibly healing experience. Not only can you see that it is possible to make it through whatever you are dealing with, but that person can also give you advice from their own experience.

Humans are social creatures, we crave interpersonal relationships. In the throws of addiction, we may isolate ourselves from those who care about us and therefore cause ourselves more pain.

Although A Man in Recovery does not provide clinical group therapy, and someone seeking that should reach out to a treatment facility, we do offer support groups that are open to anyone.

At these groups we have parents, loved ones and addicts share experiences, in their respective groups, about what they are currently going through or struggling with. Through these groups, participants receive support or advice from a diverse group of individuals and see that they are not alone.

Groups such as this or 12-step programs are an important addition to an addicts recovery, however they cannot replace clinical group therapy. In fact, most treatment facilities make attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous or similar programs mandatory, according to Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41. These groups act as a supplement to the treatment process, and should be treated as such.

Sitting in a group of strangers can be terrifying. But, there is no better feeling than watching the transformation of that group from strangers, to friends and finally family.

 

For times, dates and locations of AMIRF support group meetings visit this page. 

 

References:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41.) 1 Groups and Substance Abuse Treatment. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/

 

Buprenorphine, the new neuroleptic

In May of this year, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Buprenorphine (Suboxone) implants for the maintenance treatment of opiate addicts, and I’m terrified.

The implant is supposed to eliminate the potential for losing, forgetting or having the pill stolen, according to a press release by the FDA. I also believe that these implants will hopefully deter recipients from re-selling their Suboxone.

However, an implant will not prevent certain patients from using other substances on top of the Suboxone and this is where we are seeing problems. According to drugs.com, when using Suboxone with medications that suppress the nervous system, side effects can include respiratory distress, coma, or even death.

According to the FDA press release, the implants will consist of four, one-inch long rods that are implanted under the skin on the inside of a patient’s upper arm. These implants would provide Suboxone treatment for six months.

Although I can appreciate the benefits of taking away the hassle of daily pill-taking, implanting Suboxone into a patient is not fixing the Suboxone problem.

According to an article in Addiction Professional by Steven R. Scanlan MD, using Suboxone for longer than 20-25 days can initiate a strong dependence on the medication. Which could be problematic with the medication estimated to be 25-40 times more potent than morphine.  The article also stated that although Suboxone may help make the physical symptoms of addiction manageable, it actually does not address the emotional and spiritual aspects of the disease.

“Suboxone is a powerful opiate-an anesthetic to emotional pain. It immediately alleviates anxiety and depression, and makes a person feel more emotionally stable. A lesser dose of Suboxone (2 mg a day) will block an estimated 80 percent of a person’s feelings, while higher doses can make a patient practically numb,” Scanlan said in this article.

So my question is, how do we expect to treat patients suffering from addiction, when our patient is not able to access their emotions?

In my opinion, this practice is eerily similar to the use of neuroleptic-induced frontal lobotomies to control difficult patients in the early days of mental health treatment.

Implanting a six-month dose of Suboxone into patients to continually keep them numb is horrifying to me. Prescribing an addict this “mind-numbing” medication is essentially telling them their emotions are too much or too painful. These emotions may be a lot to handle and potentially painful, but that is why we have therapists and counselors working with addicts to process these emotions.

So what is more important treatment providers? Processing and working through an addicts painful emotions? Or blocking them completely?