Tim Leighton PhD, Director of Professional Education & Research, Action on Addiction
We are in uncharted territory right now. The daily lives of everyone in the country have been disrupted. Normal social interactions are suspended, and most people are either much more isolated than before, or they are living at close quarters with family with few opportunities for privacy and freedom of movement. This situation is difficult for all, and many people are feeling frightened, and sometimes overwhelmed, while doing their best to get on with life and cope with whatever is going on.
For people struggling with dependence on alcohol or other drugs or gambling, these are particularly difficult times. It may be that the opportunities to drink or to obtain and use drugs have become very limited or people are finding it difficult to adhere to rules relating to self-isolation or social distancing. For others, the isolation and fear people are experiencing may be driving increased solitary drinking, drug-using and online gambling. For people with a dependency problem, it is likely that this issue is being thrown into sharp focus.
However, it may be that these times offer a surprising opportunity. When the severity of a drink, drug or gambling problem becomes clear to the person themselves or to their family and others around them, the question of change arises. Most people with such a problem begin to wish, at least some of the time, that they could stop, and sometimes this desire becomes desperate as the realisation hits that the emotional relief and attempts to cope with life by drinking and other addictions are an illusion. The loneliness, regret and depression begin to break through, alongside further attempts to drown them.
But how to stop? People try cold turkey (medically dangerous with alcohol especially), will-power, they make attempts to cut down, they make promises to themselves and others. And at some point, the idea of going to a clinic or rehab takes shape. Although there are other ways people recover, going to a clinic or treatment centre is known to be one of the best and most secure routes. In a professional and secure environment, a client is helped to come off alcohol or other drugs safely (detox) and then they spend some dedicated and precious time developing the skills and resources a person needs to build a good life free of addiction. As I will explain, this is likely to be a very good time to take that golden opportunity.
This blog will address four current questions, which are intended to inform and motivate people struggling with their own addiction, their friends and family, and any professionals who may have clients they would like to refer.
1. Is residential treatment available?
2. Is it safe during the crisis?
3. What happens and how does it work?
4. Is it the right time for me?
Is treatment available?
The well-known and very highly regarded residential treatment centre Clouds House, run by my own organisation, Action on Addiction, is open and taking new admissions. The process of making sure this is the right treatment programme to meet your needs can start today, and you will be helped by our admissions team through the new procedures that have been developed to ensure safety for all.
Is it safe?
Our medical and counselling teams are reviewing the safety of our treatment community constantly. Our clinical staff are highly experienced and are informed by the best emerging evidence. Once a person has been admitted to Clouds House, we have a duty of care to ensure that person receives the treatment and support that they need. We have introduced a series of measures across all areas of our operation that minimise the risk of the virus entering the centre. These include a period of self-isolation before admission, travel arranged to the centre without any use of public transport, and a single room on admission with special measures to ensure a client is involved and supported but also protected. The programme is running with safe distancing in place during all group activities and meals. New cleaning processes have been introduced into the food supply, kitchen operations and meal service. The programme has been enhanced with a wider range of activities, and online video is being used to allow contact with loved ones and friends while visiting is not possible, and video conferencing is also being used in some of the treatment sessions.
As well as these enhancements and solutions there are also necessary limitations. Unfortunately, we unable to admit clients over 70, or those in a high-risk group. All staff who fall into vulnerable categories are not working but have been asked to self-isolate for 12 weeks in line with guidance. All non-essential staff are working from home. Those staff members who are present have their temperature taken daily before entry to the building.
All these new processes are under daily review in order to ensure safety, and new ideas to enhance the treatment experience will be implemented if safe. Although new and challenging, the situation creates a sense of cohesiveness, joint responsibility and creativity which should enhance the treatment process for all.
What happens and how does it work?
Johann Hari, the author and journalist with personal experience of recovery, has said, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” For many reasons, when addictions get bad, they lead to isolation, secrecy, and breakdown in trust. The life of someone with an addiction problem becomes ever more limited, and the ability to have fulfilling human relationships deteriorates. A person’s relationship with themselves, the capacity to take care of and respect oneself diminishes. The addiction itself becomes the most important and most relied on relationship, even as it fails to give more than temporary relief or escape.
Residential treatment provides the environment where this damage can start to be mended. Doing treatment is a challenge, but unlike the stereotype, good programmes like Clouds respect your dignity and believe in your ability to change and grow. Clients are treated like adults who are capable and willing to take responsibility for themselves and to learn to trust and respect their fellow clients and staff.
The treatment process gives you the time and space to develop relationships with your fellow clients and the treatment team, to explore and assess the relevant areas of your life, and to learn new and more effective ways of relating to others, and of managing your emotions and responses. Of course, you also get used to living addiction-free as well and learn techniques to manage craving and thoughts of drinking and using. The most important aspect for an enduring recovery, surprisingly to some, is not about the ability to stop the addictive behaviour, but about the development of connection with others. This does not mean dependence: recovery involves the development and strengthening of your personal identity and it supports your growing autonomy and self-confidence – it is about being able to live your life and make choices the way you truly would like. Recovery needs to be an antidote to the ‘addictive solution’ – that is the illusion that a person can be entirely self-contained, relying on and trusting only the addictive substance or behaviour. In the treatment experience, and perhaps especially under these current circumstances, clients learn to trust others and to live life on life’s terms.
This is why there is such a stress on group therapy in the programme. Group therapy at Clouds is not about telling stories about drinking, using and gambling, though you will be among people who fully understand all that! It’s about honestly exploring how you relate to other people, particularly as your addiction has developed over years, and how to change that in a way that allows more free, honest and fulfilling connections with others. What you learn with your fellow clients in Clouds gets transferred to your relationships outside, with your family and friends. Most clients find group therapy a scary prospect at first, but almost all, once they have built trust, find it exhilarating and the most valuable part of the whole experience. How you disclose yourself in group is not forced and you can go at your own pace, helped and guided by counsellors and group members. And perhaps most important of all, you won’t be a passive receiver of help – you will be helping others with your insights and observations, giving and receiving feedback. It’s a very active process and this is, I believe, why treatment offers such improvements in self-worth and confidence. I did my own PhD research on how treatment works, and I found that the people in treatment I interviewed were describing exactly this process.
A stay at Clouds House has a lot of other aspects. The countryside around the house is beautiful, and socialising with other clients in the evenings, participating in the wide range of therapeutic and recreational activities are all important in the active and reflective process of change.
Is it the right time for me?
Making a big change in your life is always accompanied by wavering motivation. One day a person can be absolutely certain they need to make the change, the next they can be thinking of all the reasons not to. What is sure is that if you are suffering from a worsening addiction, your life will be immeasurably better if you make the change. This is attested to by hundreds of our former clients who completed our programme and went on to build satisfying and successful lives.
While this crisis is disrupting our society and placing limitations on our daily lives, there is a real opportunity to make this crucial personal change. It’s a hugely worthwhile investment in yourself, your family and your future, and today is the right time to make it.
The way the wavering is best resolved is to make that commitment and take action. If you think you could benefit from starting your recovery from addiction in one of Britain’s best treatment centres, the first step is to check out our Clouds House page for more information and then call our admissions team on 0300 330 0659.
We are ready to welcome you on the first stage of your journey from fear to hope, from dependence to an active, autonomous and connected life.