When we attend a first visit to most services whether they are health related or otherwise there tends to be some paperwork on which we are required to sign off on. Our service has similar requests of parents referred for drug and alcohol counselling and support. Part of the information gathering is required for statistical gathering on behalf of our funding body, the other reason we spend time with the person asking the tough questions is so we understand the context of their struggle with addiction.
One of the questions we ask is what are their social networks and personal relationships like. Who do they go to for support? Are their families still a part of their lives? Difficult questions and confronting to hear the responses.
Those who voluntarily seek help show increased self awareness and their understanding of the impact their addictive behaviours have on those around them is insightful. They come with regrets and a deep sense of loss and the emptiness left by family members now absent from their lives because of addiction. Absent because the lies, manipulative behaviours, theft and unreliability of the substance dependent loved one are elements of the chaos created by addiction that family members and significant others can no longer manage. The more progressive and destructive the addiction the greater the losses.
One of the first pieces of advice most people are given is get rid of your “using” friends, delete all drug using connections from your phone, get a new sim card or block certain numbers. Cut all ties with your old networks and start building new social networks. Recovery cannot happen in a vacuum of social connections yet that is what is being asked of the person encouraged to cut old ties and make new connections.
But it is not that easy. Where does one go to build a new network of friendships? Recovery is a lonely process and the newly abstinent person can be isolated to the extent that it becomes a high risk situation for relapse; precisely what they have worked so hard to avoid.
We know that those with serious health issues or mental health diagnoses have a greater chance of recovery and better outcomes when they are supported by a committed support network, that may include family, friends and professionals. The blessing for these folk is that when they become ill they already know who their cheer leaders will be – the ones who will be there in the tough times. Recovery from addiction does not have that privilege for too many people who are isolated and lonely and generally doing it hard. Once services and professionals close a case, the person is on their own.
The funding allocated to services to assist people in recovery takes a three-pronged approach: detox, counselling and rehabilitation. Once the number of counselling sessions has been completed they are discharged into a community where – for most in this circumstance – there are very few, if any, cheer leaders to encourage them.
In Australia we are in a state of transition as our health funding (for drug and alcohol and mental health services) moves to a tendering process rather than funding applications for programmes. My best hope is that there is acknowledgement that the talking therapies have limited benefits.
Money needs to be invested in after care, to support those newly recovering by actively helping them, through assertive linkage, to make new connections with clubs, community groups, volunteer organisations etc. We help people to get housing and employment but we need to take our intervention to the next level and spend time (and money) aiding them to either, expand their support networks, or find places where they can begin afresh to establish links with others. Research tells us that by adding one non-drug/alcohol using person to a social network helps to reduce the risk of relapse by 27% for the newly recovering addict. I think that is a statistic worth going after. If one person can have such an impact imagine how much better the long term prospects when that person is joined by five or six others.
People do need to be shown how to reintegrate into the community – not their community, but our community.
Together we are stronger
Where would you go to build an entirely new set of friends? If you have done so what was your experience?