(Translation into most languages at tab to the right)
What is a recovery community and what should it look like?
The answer to these questions is not simple – real solutions to real problems rarely are.
To recover means to return to a normal state of health or strength. When someone is injured in an accident or undergone surgery, they usually recover in hospital for a period of time where they can receive the special medical care that is required to keep them alive. If the injury or illness was severe or life-threatening, after hospitalization they would be moved to a rehabilitation facility where they receive appropriate and specialized care and therapy as they convalesce – they wouldn’t just go home. Convalescing is the recovery process of returning to health.
Recovery can also refer to the process of regaining possession or control of something lost or stolen. In a real sense, those who have become addicted to a substance or damaging behavior have had something stolen. That’s not a cop-out if we consider what happens to a person’s brain when addiction takes over. The chemical changes that take place in the brain steadily decrease the individual’s original ability to think clearly and make logical choices. Especially with substances, I consider that capacity to have been stolen.
It should be easy to see that a person caught in addiction needs help with their diseased brain. And once they have had the critical care of a supervised detox and withdrawal period, they will need a period for convalescing and therapy in order to recover what functions have been stolen. For many addictive substances, this will include medication.
And as someone is convalescing, the need for community increases. Community is a social unit and the condition of having certain attitudes or interests in common. Community unites us and helps us feel we are part of something greater than ourselves. It is connection. It is safety. It is love.
Yet as we and our son – and multitudes of parents of young people in the past 15 years can tell you – finding a recovery community to help our addicted loved ones was almost impossible. Not that there weren’t plenty around – but were they real, helpful, supportive communities? I won’t go in to all the serious problems with many recovery programs and sober-living houses. And although I am not a professional or licensed recovery therapist or specialist, I can list some of the non-negotiable characteristics that I believe should be included and what we would look for in a program for our son if he were still alive.
- If licensing is available, the program/facility should be validated. If not, do a thorough check with professionals in your area.
- A 12-step type program should be at the heart of the community, while not being a ‘strict’ AA/NA program that looks down on medication assisted treatment (MAT) or harm reduction (drug addiction is very different in this when compared to alcohol addiction).
- Medication prescribed by a doctor must be allowed and closely supervised.
- For opioid and other highly addictive drugs of abuse, the minimum amount of time living in community should be at least one year and more if possible.
- There should be required community service and outreach. Serving others is one of the best ways to replace the ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals that have been depleted by addiction. It brings a sense of pride and joy to be able to give back to the community by serving those in need.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy needs to be an integral part of the recovery process to deal with underlying causes of addiction.
- Health and fitness need to become part of the daily lifestyle routine.
As far as expense goes, you can spend your life savings for many residential programs that last only 30 to 60 days. But most families cannot afford something like this and most clients need longer than a few months. Some insurance companies will cover addiction and mental health services for a period of time. But a better option, once withdrawal and detox have been completed, is a residential program that is funded by the client themselves working while in the program can be helpful for learning skills to help return to normal living. If you are not insured, there are some non-profit or public recovery programs and sober living communities available. A step down to a strong outpatient program after gaining stability is a great option too.
Whatever path of recovery is chosen, a community should be the heart that keeps the blood flowing to restore the brain and bring health to the entire body.