University

05/13/2011

Redesigning substance abuse treatment for the 21st century

Methamphetamine_pills The face of substance abuse and addiction is rapidly changing.

“Legal highs” are becoming increasingly common, with the same dangerous side effects as illicit street drugs, reports the Wall Street Journal. Last year alone, the number of recognized legal psychoactive substances doubled in Europe. Powders, pills, salts-- you name it and they are being invented under the radar and sold, clandestinely, on the internet.

It’s the latest development in a perilous up hill battle for lawmakers, addiction specialists, and public health officials. With legal substances composed of chemical compounds similar to marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy, the same addictive battle rages for those that use.   The complexity of addiction recovery for mental health professionals who treat them, however, is more complex.

With the changes in addictive substances and overall substance abuse on the rise the field of addiction recovery must rise to the occasion to adapt and meet the needs of the community through effective measures … measures that will fail unless they are imbued with the values of humanistic psychology.

The great William James contributed a great deal to the field of addition recovery. Most notably, he is known for his profound influence and intellectual contribution to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement, and subsequent 12-step programs. Among many contributions, James developed the idea that alcohol dependency and other forms of addictions were treatable by converting the psychological conditions of “brooding and depression” and helplessness and powerlessness through a surrendering of self into more transformative capacities. Among his contributions, James consistently affirmed religious experiences as a positive life giving force for human beings.

Paradoxically, today the movement of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step addiction recovery programs has strayed far from William James’ original intents. In the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Tony Bevacqua and Edward Hoffman weigh in on the current state of affairs in the field of addiction recovery; more specifically 12-step programs.

Bevacqua and Hoffman emphasize the need for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and all other 12-step programs to be “reappraised” to meet the changing needs of substance abuse and to begin again more closely aligned with the humanistic philosophies of William James.

Here’s what they suggest:

1)       A more comprehensive approach to the treatment of substance abuse emphasizing a positive perspective. This would happen by recovery programs embracing the perspective that all people have a healthy mind and temperament by nature. As a result of this, those in recovery would be seen as capable of creativity, autonomy, and self-determination. This approach would move the current treatment paradigm from the perspective of the “sick-minded” flawed temperament to a “health mind” temperament; leaving room for “peak experiences” in the midst of addiction recovery. 

2)      A change in the theoretical philosophy that postulates recovery resulting from a change in an addicted person’s “sick-minded” temperaments through “nadir-experiences” of desolation. Moving toward “self-transformation” as a constructive model that sees the inherent value and dignity of the person in recovery providing the necessary environmental conditions of empathy, and unconditional positive regard needed for any psychological or lifestyles transformations..

James himself noted, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

If the field of addiction recovery is to meet the needs of the “grey zone” of substance abuse in the twenty-first century, it must go back to its humanistic roots. William James and humanistic psychology are starting points to help the field move toward a more humanized person-centered system of recovery.

 -- Liz Schreiber

Posted at 03:10 AM in

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