Tag Archives: Dignity

What Is Treatment?

Treatment. It’s a loaded word when talking about substance abuse and recovery services. There are many misconceptions about substance use disorder treatment around. This leads to misunderstandings from potential clients about what happens, which can be significant barriers to seeking needed help. With this confusion, what is treatment about?

Treatment is Not Shaming

First, let’s talk about what treatment is not about. First, treatment is not about shaming people. I know, there’s an old school treatment concept that still exists which includes shaming tactics under the guise of helping the client. Treatment programs built this method around the concept that addiction is a moral failing and people continue using despite negative consequences they’ve experienced. This is not true.

Let me say it again—addiction is not a moral failing. Research has proven this in a variety of ways under many circumstances. Addiction is a brain disease. This means the concept of choice plays an insignificant role in substance use disorders. Yes, technically people have a choice to use. However, there are multiple things influencing that choice which are beyond a person’s control. And, the bigger part of the equation to use is that once the person picks up, any subsequent use is beyond their control. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Therefore, shaming tactics are ineffective and, most times, much more harmful than helpful. Treatment should never be about shaming. Any treatment tactic that includes a shaming component will inherently be problematic.

Treatment is Not About a Cure

Treatment is also not about “curing” people. Think about it a minute. Can you forget, truly forget, how to ride a bicycle? Outside of other influences that affect memory and the brain, it isn’t possible, is it? This principle also applies to substance use. A person who has turned to substances as a coping skill has learned, for a short time, substances provide relief from their distress. That’s impossible to forget. And, the problem is, these underlying pieces are generally not “curable” pieces. For example, we cannot yet “cure” the discriminatory behaviors ingrained in our society. Thus, the distressing and traumatic personal experiences with this discrimination are still incurable for an individual. Which means the temptation to return to substance use as a way to cope will never completely go away either.

Treatment is Not About Not Using

Finally, treatment is not about not using. You read that right. Treatment is not about not using. Yes, there is that piece in there. However, the bulk of treatment is about other issues. The not using part is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle. The larger puzzle is more what treatment focuses on instead. Why is the person using? What barriers exist to sobriety for the person? What can treatment staff do to address the reasons for use and the barriers to recovery? What supports does the person need to continue in recovery? These are some examples of what treatment is about.

Treatment is About Resources

Treatment is about finding resources for people. It is about rebuilding connections people have to their families, friends, jobs, and communities. It is about helping them address underlying trauma issues, underlying mental health concerns, financial problems, social problems, and more. Because we live in a society that criminalizes addiction, it is about helping people navigate and address legal involvement. For adolescents, it’s about addressing school needs and parental conflict.

Treatment Is about Respect and Dignity

Most importantly, treatment is about helping people find dignity and respect for themselves again. See, part of what addiction and substance use problems do is rob people of their own sense of self-worth, compassion for themselves, and their sense of well-being. People who struggle with use and the negative behaviors associated with it are acutely aware of how these behaviors have affected loved ones in their lives. The shame and self-loathing they experience is as bad, if not worse, than anything anyone else can evoke in them. Therefore, treatment is about building people back up again. About helping people through these dark periods in their lives when they can’t find the light for themselves. Treatment becomes that light.

Yes, treatment is a loaded word when we look at substance abuse treatment. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Understanding what treatment is, and what treatment is not, is a key piece of removing the stigma and fear around seeking help. Treatment is about humanizing people. It’s about understanding.

Stacy Overby, MS, LADC, CCTP is the program director. She has been a licensed drug and alcohol counselor since 2010 and a certified clinical trauma professional since 2017.