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The modern approach to substance abuse and addiction recovery

Jan 23, 2019

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Although addiction as a medical problem is not unique to the 21st century, it has become a heated topic of debate because modern health data collection methods have revealed just how widespread it is and how much it can affect quality of life. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 23% of the American population engages in binge drinking on a regular basis, which accounts to about 59 million people. At the same time, a staggering 23 million people over the age of 12 need to receive treatment for alcohol or substance abuse, but only 2.6 million actually end up seeking help in a specialised addiction facility.

 

There is a lot of data on addiction and apart from the fact that it points to a persistent problem that affects all categories of the population, it also indicates that addiction is much more complex than we thought and that medication is just one part of the solution. In light of the recent research on the causes of addiction and its connection with other health conditions, scientists are now suggesting a modern approach to substance abuse, one that aims to treat symptoms as well as the cause, and focus more on patient wellness as a whole. This contemporary approach also includes leveraging the benefits of technology and taking advantage of the interaction between tech and healthcare.

Addiction counselling – treatment beyond medication

Although addiction is a physical problem, it can have psychological causes, which means that a treatment approach that focuses only on medication would be limitative. In this context, working with an addiction counsellor is just as important as seeking medical treatment.

In many cases, addiction is not caused by a hereditary problem or by peer pressure, but by a traumatic event that pushed the patient to resort to drugs, alcohol or another compulsive behaviour as a coping mechanism. Over time, this mechanism becomes involuntary, so that whenever the patient feels sad, depressed, anxious or angry, they resort to drinking, taking drugs, shopping or gambling to feel better. The satisfaction is short-lived, however, and it’s important to address the source of that initial negative feeling in order to overcome addiction. Otherwise, they will be tempted to repeat that same coping method again and again.

 

Recent research also shows that there is a connection between mental health and addiction. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, substance abuse affects 50% of patients with mental disorders and that 37% of heavy drinkers had an underlying mental illness. For them, substances abuse can become a way of self-medication and coping with the symptoms of their mental illness, so recovery should mandatorily include therapy. As explained by David Goodlad Counsellor, recovering from addiction is a battle on multiple fronts, so understanding the patient’s history and appraising their mental functioning can greatly determine success chances.

 

Apart from counselling sessions, studies show that incorporating holistic alternatives such as massage therapy or yoga could also increase recovery odds and reduce relapse. Moreover, the existence of these services in a recovery facility can modify the user’s perception, offering them a more pleasant, humane experience and motivating them to continue treatment. This trend has been emerging especially in the United States, where many addiction centres have been criticised for the lack of meaningful doctor-patient interaction or harsh treatment methods.

 

It’s very important to point out that professional addiction counselling is not the same as family support. The love and understanding of the user’s family is of course very important and can play a huge part in the recovery process, but it is not enough to cure the underlying issue that may have caused addiction.

Apps could soon be used to detect overdoses and prevent relapse

The influence of emerging technologies is growing in the healthcare sector, but hospitals and medical institutions are not the only ones who benefit from the change. More and more Wear Tech manufacturers now have healthcare kits that monitor the user’s heartbeat and can make emergency calls in case of slips and falls. In the future, apps could be used to help recovering addicts. For example, the Second Chances app, which is still in trials and awaits approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, uses sonar technology to detect the changes in breathing patterns caused by opioid overdoses and then calls for help. 

Another app, Triggr Health, uses smartphone data and AI to track and interpret user behaviour and calculate the likelihood of relapse. This way, if a recovering addict displays dangerous signs of relapse, it sends a warning alert to a recovery expert.

Since relapse is common in the recovery process, apps such as Second Chances and Triggr could greatly reduce the number of accidents. Moreover, the technology could fuel a new generation of apps and wearables for a category of patients that is often neglected. Currently, the selection of apps that cater to people who suffer from addiction is quite poor, and includes mainly 12 Steps AA Companions and apps that deliver positive reinforcements or daily meditation tasks. Of course, apps alone cannot be successful without targeted treatment and the professional intervention of a psychotherapist, but they play an important role in helping patients once they are no longer in a controlled environment and could reduce the risk of relapse.