To Solve The Opioid Crisis We Need To Go Beyond The 12 Step Program
We need more effective treatment.
President Trump just declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency”. I don’t need to define what a public health emergency is, but it means that the abuse of opioids and the overdoses that follow have reached a critical mass. The bodies are stacking up, as ghoulish as it is to describe it that way.
Families are torn apart: children are losing their parents, parents are burying their children, grandchildren dying years before their grandparents. And I, myself, am a survivor of polysubstance addiction, meaning I was addicted to multiple substances including painkillers (like Dilaudid) and heroin. I’ve overdosed 5 times. And 3 out of the 5 times, I woke up in a hospital bed. The other two times, I ended up coming out of it myself — scaring my friends in the process.
I’ve also known many who have overdosed and died. One of my friends, Brianna (I changed her name to protect her memory), died when the opiate crisis was beginning, around the same time Phillip Seymour Hoffman died. More recently, my friend Paul Yabor fell to this insidious disease.
In my opinion, it should never have taken so long to declare it an emergency. However, there’s no use in lamenting the past, not when we need to work now to prevent more deaths. “But what”, you might be thinking, “can we do to prevent more deaths? It just seems hopeless!”
Well, it’s not hopeless. And here is what I propose to prevent more deaths: we need more effective treatment. That seems like an obvious statement, but if you’ve never been in the addiction/treatment worlds, you don’t really have a good idea of how it works. So, I’ll draw for you a sketch of what treatment overwhelmingly looks like in America:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven…”
You get the picture. But there are so many more prayers from there. There’s the 3rd Step Prayer, the 7th Step Prayer, and the 11th Step Prayer. If you haven’t gotten what I’m getting at yet: 74% of the treatment centers in the United States are 12 Step based rehabs, according to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. This is a significant problem.
There’s nothing wrong with the 12 Step model. This is not an attack or a critique of the 12 Steps, because there are so many of those. Plus, I think that attacking the 12 Steps would only be destructive and not constructive. The problem with so many rehabs using the 12 Step model is that there needs to be a larger number of models to choose from.
Many in recovery don’t use just one program to stay sober. I know that I don’t, I approach recovery with three different methods: I live the spirituality that the 12 Steps teach, I use SMART Recovery to change my addict thinking, and I use buprenorphine (a medication found in Suboxone, Zubsolv, and Bunavail) because chronic withdrawal and cravings trigger me, invariably, to use.
While I cannot open a rehab and I can’t change what many rehabs do, I can use my voice and platform to inform people of other treatment methods. So here are a few, non-12 Step methods of recovery that you can use:
SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It uses techniques from cognitive behavior therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy to help people achieve recovery. It has a four point program that can be taken as steps or as independent goals.
These four steps are: building and maintaining motivation in recovery, coping with urges to use, managing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and lastly, living a balanced life. Their handbook, the handouts on its website, and meetings online and face to face come together to help people with addiction issues face their addiction and face life.
LifeRing and Secular Organizations for Sobriety developed as secular, non-12 Step recovery programs for addicts and alcoholics. Feeling rejected by the 12 Step spiritual approach to alcoholism and addiction, these groups were founded to help atheists and agnostics find recovery. That being said, many members of both groups believe in some form of higher power. LifeRing approaches recovery as a struggle between the addict self and the sober self, using meetings and positive reinforcement to help the sober self thrive. SOS is a group of autonomous secular groups that meet regularly to help each other stay sober.
Women for Sobriety is a group meant to help women who are addicts or alcoholics achieve sobriety. They use a program called the “New Life Acceptance Program” based on a list of 13 affirmations. This program was created in response to the feeling that AA wasn’t meeting the unique needs of women alcoholic and addicts.
These are but a handful of the different programs that exist for drug addicts to go if they don’t want to go to an Anonymous fellowship to seek recovery. There are also programs such as Millati Islami, Celebrate Recovery, Addicts Victorious, and Pagans in Recovery that are meant as 12 Step programs applied to the specific religious needs of the individual, be they a Muslim, Christian, or Pagan addict.
No matter which group someone chooses to attend, whether it’s 12 Step or non-12 Step, it’s important for addicts seeking recovery to be given many options, not just a single choice. It’s impossible for 12 Step fellowships to have their success accurately measured because of the anonymous nature of the fellowships and because there could be many markers of completion or success in the program.
As I’ve said, I didn’t wish to attack them. I wanted people to know they had a choice. If these choices were given to people at the start of their recovery, I believe that this epidemic might not be as bad as it is. This is how I’ve chosen to use my platform, so that people can know. Now that you know, tell the addict or person with substance use issues in your life what you’ve learned.
Keep coming back, to wherever you choose to go.
Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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