The Importance of Counseling During Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery

Not all work is done after you leave alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Over half of the people who have received treatment relapse. This can be a devastating blow to many who put their hope and faith into addiction treatment. The problem is treatment isn’t the complete solution to recovery.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), addiction can be treated successfully. It is a treatable disease. The treatment for substance abuse disorders is firmly grounded in evidence-based interventions that have helped many people turn their life around. Successfully treating addiction doesn’t mean just going to treatment, though.

Addiction is a chronic disease. Like most diseases, it must be managed. Treatment simply allows people to stop the vicious cycle of using, withdrawing, and using again. It’s a way to disrupt the dependence the brain has on the substance, so people can take control of their lives instead of the drugs controlling everything.

Relapsing After Treatment

Many people who complete treatment will return home and relapse. They immediately believe that their addiction program did not work, and they are destined to continue being an addict. They are wrong.

Relapsing means going back to using drugs or alcohol for a period of time. It’s relatable to people who struggle with chronic medical illnesses, such as hypertension. At times, a sufferer’s blood pressure rises due to diet, exercise, or medication. Despite what doctors have advised, hypertension sufferers fall off the wagon with their healthy lifestyle, and this leads to a relapse in their high blood pressure. This doesn’t mean treatment has failed. It means there needs to be an adjustment to what the person was doing that caused the blood pressure to increase. The same goes for people suffering from addiction.

Someone who relapses back to drugs and/or alcohol has done this because something changed since treatment. Usually, this means that they were unable to get through a time in their life that was much more powerful than they could handle, so they fall back on old coping strategies – alcohol and/or drugs.

Treatment can be reinstated, changed, or the person can try something else to see if there is better success with it. Often additional support is all that is needed when someone relapses and needs to get back on track.

Medication and Therapy: The Combination for Successful Recovery

The NIH has been studying what works best for people with addiction, and the combination of medication and therapy seems to be the best choice. Specifically, behavior therapy seems to be the most effective for people in recovery. This allows the addict to address their patterns of drug use, and how their medical, psychiatric, and social problems play a role in their substance abuse.

For most people, alcohol and/or drugs served as an outlet from life’s problems. It was easier to drink or do drugs than deal with the pressures of whatever was going on in life. This escape from reality seems to be the best solution at the time, but the consequences are devastating. Job loss, relationship problems, financial distress, medical problems, mental health decline, and more are all the repercussions of substance abuse. The behavioral habits of people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol need to be identified, understood and changed to have a successful recovery. Behavioral therapy helps people do all of this, and more.

“Behavioral treatments help engage people in substance use disorder treatment, modifying their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use and increasing their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt another cycle of compulsive use.” – NIH

About Behavioral Therapy

This form of therapy helps people change self-destructive and unhealthy behaviors. The focus is on the behaviors that lead to the actions that do not serve the person’s life goals.

Behavioral therapy has helped many people suffering from a wide range of disorders, such as depression and anxiety. It’s also been used for people who have mental health disorders such as bipolar, ADHD, and PTSD.

Within the field of behavioral therapy, there are many types:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral play therapy
  • System desensitization
  • Aversion therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to change behaviors by focusing on people’s cognitions. People’s thoughts and beliefs influence what they do. If people can change what they think about when certain problems arise in their life, they can solve them differently than they would with the same thoughts. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to change person’s thinking in a way that they can act on situations differently – in a healthier way.

Cognitive behavioral play therapy is best for children. While playing with toys, drawing, and using a sandbox to create scenes, therapists can help children talk more about their problems and what they think about them.

System desensitization is often used to treat phobias but can also be creatively used in many other situations. Therapists help their client replace a fear response with a relaxation one. After doing this many times, the clients will learn to do it automatically, and this can help them make better judgements under stress.

Aversion therapy is the best type of counseling to treat problems such as substance abuse and alcoholism. It helps people associate unhealthy stimuli with unpleasant stimuli. For instance, the therapist can help a client associate drinking alcohol with a bad memory, which would deter the client from wanting to drink.

The Effectiveness of Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy has been used since 1911 when Edward Thorndike first came up with the term “behavioral modification.” After that time, many psychoanalysts have used the practice and refined it to help people over time with many different mental health disorders. Researchers now report that approximately 75 percent of people who undergo behavioral therapy experience some benefits from it. According to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine by the National Institutes of Health, cognitive behavioral therapy has been most effective for treating people suffering from substance abuse.

Behavioral Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Upon leaving an addiction treatment center, many addicts have the knowledge to make better decisions. However, their judgements are thwarted due to many reasons, such as life circumstances and peer pressure. Negative thinking patterns often ignite immediately when those suffering from addiction feel as though they can’t stay clean and/or sober. This negative thinking sparks a downward spiral of feelings associated with powerlessness and lack of control over their behavior. The next thing the person knows, he/she is using, and this perpetuates more negative thinking, leading to more feelings of hopelessness, which then leads to more using. Once the person starts using, he/she often feels as though treatment was a failure and goes back to old habits.

This all-or-nothing thinking is what keeps people suffering addiction addicts. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people understand that life ebbs and flows, and just because someone relapses, it doesn’t mean that treatment was a failure and that he is destined to be an addict forever.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people understand that using for a day doesn’t mean they will use for a lifetime. They help people change their mindset, so they can get back to be clean and/or sober the next day. Learning from the relapse is one of the most important things to do when in recovery, and a therapist can help pull that information out, so it can be used for next time.

What a Typical Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session Is Like

Let’s say Tony comes to see his therapist because he spent the weekend on a binge. He feels disappointed, sick, and hopeless over his decisions in life.

Tony explains to his therapist Suzy that he started drinking Friday night because he had a stressful week at work. He had to put out fires with many clients, and then on Friday, he lost his biggest account. His confidence was gone, and he felt as though he was losing his business. To forget it all, Tony said he decided to “just have one drink.”

One drink turned into two, which turned into three, and so on. Waking up Saturday morning, he felt as though all of the work he did in his sobriety was lost. He didn’t want to bear that disappointment, so he started drinking again, and drank all day long until he passed out. Sunday, he woke up and couldn’t believe how bad he had been the last two days. He was supposed to see his kids on Saturday, but he was too drunk to even call to say he wasn’t going to pick them up, he began to cry. He couldn’t bear it and started drinking again.

It was Monday that he went in to see the therapist. He called for an emergency appointment because he knew if he didn’t, he would just start drinking again and another day would be ruined.

This was the decision that signaled he did succeed with treatment.

The therapy session started with Tony examining what led to his drinking. The thoughts he was having, and how those thoughts led him to his actions. Friday’s thoughts, Saturday’s thoughts, and of course, Sunday’s thoughts were picked apart and by the time Tony left his session, he knew EXACTLY why he relapsed. He knew that one negative thought leads to another one, and then one poor decision leads to another one. He also learned that when he has a negative thought, that he can counteract it with a positive one. He learned that when he thinks, “I can just have one drink,” he can change that thought to, “I can take a walk,” or “I can call and talk to my kids.” The thoughts that lead to act of drinking can be changed, which take him away from drinking.

With this counseling session, Tony felt more confident that he can live his life in more control. He doesn’t have to be at the mercy of alcohol.

Why Counseling Works

You can read this and think, “Well, I already learned this, and I can do it on my own.” It’s hard to counsel yourself, and some experts say you can’t do it.

Counseling is more than teaching. It’s having someone there beside you who is rooting for you. Someone who knows you can be successful in your recovery, but you just need support sometimes to get through the hard parts.

A counselor not only reminds you what you need to do in situations, but helps you pick yourself up, so you can continue with your recovery. This person becomes the person you can lean on whenever no one else is willing.

Many addicts say that their family just doesn’t understand that relapse is part of recovery, and they feel as though they are a failure when they relapse. As you know, this just leads to a higher chance of going back to addiction.

You need the power of a counselor beside you and behind you to propel you forward in your recovery. This is a positive person who doesn’t think you are going to fail. A person who will take what you say and think and turn it around to help you – not take what you say and think and make you feel as though there’s no hope.

It may not seem like counseling is the answer. It may not seem powerful enough to work. But, there are many, many, many people who will disagree with you because without their therapist, they would have never been able to say that they had achieved sobriety for a decade and more.

Michigan Counseling Group for MCG Substance Abuse Disorders

MCG cares about you and your success in recovery. After treatment, count on MCG to help you find a therapist that can guide you through the many trials and tribulations you’ll encounter.

We set you up with a counselor who you will feel comfortable with talking about your life. The therapists we work with have many years of experience, and have heard it all, so you do not have to be ashamed or feel guilty.

Let’s get you connected with a counselor right now, so you can make the treatment you received a success. Call us at 586-510-4992 now.