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Employment & relationships key to addiction recovery

Employment & relationships key to addiction recovery

Employment & relationships key to addiction recovery

New research suggests that environments that foster good relationships and a sense of purpose are important when it comes to addiction recovery.

There is no particular type of person who becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs. It can happen to anyone. Sometimes what starts as occasional use, can get out of control as time passes. Other times addiction can be the result of dealing with grief or loss. Becoming dependent on alcohol or drugs means you rely on a substance to feel good or to cope with everyday life. Quitting once you are addicted is hard to do because repeated use makes the body more dependent and changes the brain. For this reason, many people find they cannot stop by themselves.

Residential programs and therapeutic communities like The Buttery in Australia are drug-free residential rehabilitation programs where clients live together in a supportive environment over a period of months, with increasing levels of social and personal responsibility supported by counselling, personal change and skills training used to rehabilitate drug and alcohol users.

A new Australian study has found successful recovery from drug and alcohol addiction through attending a residential treatment program means more to the person than just staying clean and sober. While a significant body of research has shown that the length of time a person stays in a program is positively linked to abstinence, much of the work has focused on achieving and maintaining abstinence as the main measure of a program’s success and to date no research has been done to understand what successful recovery means from the client’s point of view.

A study of former residents of the Buttery found that successful drug and alcohol treatment takes a wider view to include their feelings of self-worth and their ability to contribute to society through employment, study or volunteering.

Tarran Prangley, a medical student from Graduate Medicine at the University of Wollongong, interviewed a number of ex-residents of the Buttery to understand the reasons people entered rehabilitation programs in the first place, which could shed light on why they might withdraw early.

“Former residents spoke about the need for a ‘circuit breaker’ in their life. They were struggling with childhood trauma and experienced ongoing poor mental health, or they were in trouble with the law.

“The suffering associated with hitting rock bottom is a strong motivator to do something about addiction, to reassess their life and seek help and some see attending a program as their last chance in life,” Prangley says.

The study, a collaboration through the University Centre for Rural Health, Lismore, between the University of Wollongong School of Medicine, Western Sydney University School of Medicine, and the Buttery, revealed the residents’ idea of success involved their sense of overall self-worth, from how the program helped improve relationships, their psychological and physical wellbeing, understanding of addiction and putting them on the track to gaining employment, studying and volunteering.

Dr Sabrina Pit from Western Sydney University says the study’s results could indicate a shift in the way people view recovery, away from being defined solely by abstinence towards a more holistic view. “From a policy and treatment point of view this shows the value of supporting residents to not only focus on abstinence but also to identify how they can actively contribute to the community, through studying, volunteering or finding employment.”

Trent Rees, Residential Programs Manager at the Buttery, says “When people come to programs like ours they may have also tried other interventions. Rather than see that as a series of failures, we need to recognise that recovery is a journey and all the steps taken along the way contribute to their long-term wellbeing and recovery.”

The research was published recently in the journal BMC Psychiatry

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