The role of medicine in early recovery

   Addiction is a chronic disease and, much like type I diabetes, hypertension and asthma, it is prone to relapse at staggering rates. In the past decade more than ever, addiction treatment centers and the field of medicine have been teaming up to develop the most effective ways to treat addiction and to prevent relapse. Following this trend, we have worked to incorporate medication-assisted treatment (MAT) into our well-established and evidence-based 12-step philosophy.

    In the midst of an opioid epidemic when many of our patients have been through numerous treatment centers, have tried 12-step recovery, residential treatment, and treatment programs offering only medication without success, we had to ask ourselves as treatment professionals, what can we do differently this time to improve the likelihood of our patients achieving long-lasting recovery.

    Our patients are unique individuals and are treated as such by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who understand their illness. Depending on the nature and course of each person’s disease, our team might suggest medication; however, medication is only a small piece of their suggested treatment plan. None of our patients are given medication unless as an adjunct to a holistic treatment plan that consists of therapy, group counseling, case management, and ongoing support. Medication is not and will never be a stand-alone treatment for the disease of addiction.

    We are aware there are varying opinions about MAT. Some believe a person is not “clean” when they are on medications, and others believe we are just trading one drug for another. One of our own therapists, named Joe, is a person in recovery himself and when he became a member of our MAT team he expressed some of these same thoughts and concerns. After five years working with us and seeing our process, Joe will tell you today that he understands our approach. He concedes that “the disease is getting worse and taking more lives than ever, and we have to use all the tools available to get people in treatment and help them stay there long enough to get better.”

    It is our belief that, regardless of medication type, a person will only get better if they engage in treatment and become active members in a 12-step program of recovery. Once a person develops enough positive support and has the skills needed to maintain long-term success and freedom in recovery, then they should no longer need the medication that only aided them to achieve that goal.

    While so much focus and debate can be placed on medications, it is our belief that the primary focus should be on the necessary changes a person must make in order to develop a healthy lifestyle of recovery. With or without medication, the same goal should hold true. Medication only serves to help those who need it to get through the toughest part of their recovery, the beginning, where so many people struggle.

    The path may need to be different for some, but the ultimate goal should be the same: to become free from active addiction and achieve health in body, mind and spirit.

 

Brandon D. Miller, LPCC-S, LICDC
MAT Program Specialist
Neil Kennedy Recovery Centers

Joseph P. Sitarik, D.O.
Medical Director
Neil Kennedy Recovery Centers