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Recovery on demand

“A short time after taking [methadone] daily, I noticed my desire to use starting to subside. My thoughts of using were diminishing and I felt human again.”

Human again.

Such a description may sound peculiar to the uninformed regarding the science of addiction, but it is an apt description underscoring the concept of addiction recovery: the goal of complete sobriety of any client seeking services at a behavioral health agency,and the mission of those very agencies to provide a spectrum of treatments centering on counseling, education and medication. Combining assorted treatments has proven effective; just one alone–especially medication by itself–has proven insufficient.

These agencies resurrect the lives of clients whom thought recovery to be impossible, of clients whom believed their life of addiction struck down any chance for them to make amends and start anew. But modern treatment programs, including Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, has empowered participants to achieve sobriety in a safe, proven manner.

Expanding more prominently over the past 20 years in response to America’s opioid epidemic, MAT’s origins lay nearly a century prior in the Good Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose crucial guidance for its membership also included medical advances–precursors to future abstinence-based addiction treatment programs via medications including methadone (1960s) and naltrexone (1980s) that clinically diminish a person’s cravings to use substances, whether they be opioids or alcohol–the most commonly treated substances.

Addiction correlates strongly to various mental health challenges; rarely can both be categorized without significant overlap, for evidence shows that many persons living with mental health challenges tend to rely on alcohol, opioids, and nicotine to mitigate symptoms of depression, anxiety, or symptoms of psychosis.

The roots of these challenges overlap genetic factors (nature) and environmental influences (nurture) equally. Family members born into a history of mental health challenges, including substance use disorders, have a higher risk of similar challenges; likewise, expecting mothers who experience profound or sustained distress or duress during pregnancy can reshape the genetic code of their child in utero. From an environmental perspective, traumatic experiences during childhood, or what clinicians refer to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), also significantly mold a person’s behavior, notably one’s coping mechanisms in crisis situations. Growing up in an unsafe or non-nurturing environment, one often marked by neglect or abuse, undoubtedly influences how well a person matures throughout their life.

Despite various stigmas toward medication for substance use disorders, MAT’s evidence-based approach has enlightened some skeptics of MAT-based services ‘profound effects, leaving some of those skeptics to a band on such false notions, including the myth that MAT simply substitutes one chemical for another. Hard data aside, countless testimonies from those succeeding in their recovery proves the contrary. Another CFR client admits bluntly that before experiencing the hallmark compassion of CFR’s staff along with the MAT-based medication, Methadone, “I was severely underweight and on my way to death.”

“With these antagonist medications taken in MAT therapy, receptors throughout the brain and body are stimulated without providing the euphoric effects” common to opioid and alcohol misuse, says Mollie O’Brien, ARNP, DNP, who oversees client care at the MAT clinic on CFR’s main campus, and which is one of 14 United Community Services Healthcare (UCS) locations in the state of Iowa.

O’Brien emphasizes the clinical evidence behind addiction to help others better understand its physiology–its effects on the human body’s normal functions, including the nervous system that regulates behavior. Like most mental health challenges, addictions typically begin during adolescence, when addictions adversely affect brain development the most, notably the prefrontal cortex that governs a person’s decision-making, forms of personal expression, and habits of social behavior. These effects from addiction do not discriminate, either. What ultimately distinguishes individuals pursuing addiction treatment is their honesty: for any client to achieve recovery requires them to be truthful about the possible causes and reasons for their circumstances that will become an essential part to their recovery.

This subsequently requires those same individuals to participate actively in their recovery, trying new methods and mechanisms to feel a sense of humanness of which addiction robbed them. O’Brien encourages us to approach persons in addiction recovery similar to how we would approach someone with a chronic disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure: “we do not stigmatize these individuals for seeking treatment from a healthcare provider. We applaud them for focusing on their health. And we know that patients can be non-compliant with treatment plans from diabetes and high blood pressure, just like they can with medication assisted treatment.”

She reveals that those in recovery for at least one year on both medication and counseling generate high rates of success, but that it is common for some to be on medication indefinitely–something that one CFR client fully embraces considering the benefits.

“In all honesty, I am not ashamed to be on [medication] forever. It works for me, it keeps me clean, it makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and that there is nothing I can’t achieve.” O’Brien reflects on such achievements, noting that many CFR clients are finding jobs, supporting their families, and returning to school to complete their education.

Medication Assisted Treatment may not provide a magical cure in pill form, but coupled with counseling it does ensure a meaningful recovery that is always a journey and never a destination. MAT clinics located at CFR facilities remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic with precautions in place to keep both clients and staff safe.If you, or someone you know, needs information or services please reach out us at 515-576-7261 or visit us at www.cfrhelps.org.

Todd Anderson is a prevention specialist for Community and Family Resources

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