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Are Abstinent Models The Best Methods For Addiction Recovery?

Research shows that approximately 1 in 7 Americans will struggle with a substance use disorder at some point during their lives. It’s a staggering number, and most of these people will never receive the help they need. For those who do receive professional care, most of the treatment will emphasize the necessity for abstinence.

And while abstinence models- which refers to the complete refusal to use addictive substances- has its merit, this method can be shortsighted for some people. Rather than arbitrarily subscribe to a one-size-fits-all model of care, everyone needs to know their addiction treatment options.

A Look Into Abstinent Models For Recovery

Look no further than the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous to find evidence of the virtues of abstinence, where this method is the gold standard for sobriety. Abstinence has its undeniable appeal, as the approach is straightforward and all-or-nothing. If you avoid drinking or using mood-altering substances, you’re sober. If you continue to partake, you’re not sober.

With abstinence, there is no guesswork. There is no determining if you’re “overdoing” it, and there is no discussion about moderation. The laurels of abstinence rest on the notion that addicted individuals cannot handle drugs or alcohol in any quantity.

Of course, many people do benefit from abstinence. For example, abstinence can be incredibly beneficial for individuals who have tried other approaches in the past. It may also be necessary for people with certain medical conditions that are exacerbated by drugs or alcohol.

That said, research shows that the abstinence model has significant deficits. People with substance use disorders do face a risk of relapse despite long periods of sobriety. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for people to return back to old, dangerous habits after a single slip. That’s because they believe they already messed up. And while research on accurate recovery rates remains scant, some evidence suggests that only 5-10% of people in Twelve Steps programs stay sober.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

We have made tremendous strides in modern medicine and its role in addiction treatment. Today, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can provide a viable alternative to strict abstinence. Often used in conjunction with other treatment methods like counseling or support groups, MAT can help decrease cravings and block the sensations associated with pleasure and euphoria if relapse does occur.

With that in mind, MAT has a controversial role in the medical community. Some medications, like buprenorphine and methadone, which are both used to treat opioid use disorder, have the potential for misuse and addiction. Furthermore, there is a common school of thought that people are trading one habit for another.

Proponents of MAT argue that these medications help save lives. Naltrexone, for example, is available in either pill or injectable form. It blocks cravings for alcohol and opioids. If the individual does use these substances, the medication blocks the desired feelings associated with intoxication.

Personal accountability is essential for MAT success. Because the medications can also generate unwanted side effects, people pursuing MAT should always work closely with their treatment team for safe monitoring.

Harm Reduction and Moderation Management

Harm reduction and moderation approaches both focus on decreasing the severity and intensity of substance use. As opposed to strict abstinence, individuals learn how to integrate substances more safely and adaptively into their lives.

This model is similar to safe sex education models for adolescents. Research continues to show that abstinence education programs don’t decrease the rate of sexual activity. However, rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases drop when programs integrate comprehensive education about safe sexual practices.

Many professionals follow this line of thinking when discussing harm reduction for substances. They argue that many people cannot or will not stop using drugs or alcohol. As a result, these individuals must learn healthier substance use strategies.

Of course, harm reduction and moderation approaches have their drawbacks. It can be difficult for people to assess and understand problematic behavior. Likewise, an addiction mood-altering substances inevitably can create a slippery slope. Although people may have great intentions to use with moderation, it can be easy to fall back into dangerous habits.

Finding The Best Approach For You

No matter which method you choose, recovery isn’t an easy decision. It requires a willingness for change, and it often requires taking a leap of faith into the unknown. With that in mind, recovery is one of the best gifts you can give both yourself and your loved ones.

Whether you subscribe to abstinent models or another recovery approach, The Resurface Group believes in allowing you to have agency and control over your future. We’re here to support your growth and your decision-making process. We’re also here to provide you with encouragement and guidance throughout the entire journey. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

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