We understand addiction to be a threefold condition that is at once mental, emotional, and physical. However, our approach to drug addiction treatment differs from conventional treatment in that we focus on the emotional rather than the mental.
Addicts and alcoholics lose control of their consumption once they start to drink or abuse drugs. This is the physical dimension of addiction. We now know that addictive behavior involves the reward circuitry of the brain, including a region called the nucleus accumbens, which plays a significant role in motivation, pleasure, and positive reinforcement. Dopamine (the “pleasure chemical”) is released into the nucleus accumbens following exposure to rewarding stimuli. Over time, this dopamine release becomes the default coping mechanism in addiction. No matter what the external stressor (e.g. divorce, tragedy, or boredom), the addict can change his affect by getting high.
Too often, the recovery world equates recovery with sobriety. It is true that if the alcoholic can refrain from the first drink, he will not get drunk. But sobriety is only the prerequisite to recovery. Recovery does not follow organically from getting sober. In fact, sobriety is a painful condition; the addict must contend with life’s challenges without her primary coping mechanism.
Sober addicts and alcoholics are plagued with thoughts of drinking. Meaning they find themselves thinking about drinking even though they really want to remain sober. Most conventional treatment focuses on this symptom. It tries to teach the addict to “think through the drink” or “play the tape through.” Unfortunately, most addicts complain that that is precisely what they cannot do.
The bottom line is that, for the majority addicts, sobriety is a very painful proposition. So much so that the famed 12 Stepper Don P. often quipped that “the leading cause of relapse is sobriety.” The emotional symptom of addiction is the most problematic aspect of the condition. That is why it should be the primary focus of treatment and recovery. At RRTC we understand recovery to involve the identification and resolution of those emotional issues that gave rise to the addictive behavior in the first place. This means that recovery is invariably a painful and challenging process. However, genuine, and lasting relief will come in due time. But first the addict must learn that she can handle adversity without recourse to drugs or alcohol.