One of the first slogans I heard when I got into the treatment field was “an alcoholic alone is in bad company.” Doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but often enough that it gets frequent replay. It directs our attention to the need for consistent support in the quest to establish sobriety.
Modern research into treatment effectiveness seems to confirm that. And the risk associated with its sudden interruption.
I recall Vaillant’s conclusion that it took three years before the sober alcoholic no longer exhibited residual signs of emotional disturbances left over from active addiction. Yet I keep running into people — family members, physicians, even patients themselves — who expect it to proceed at a much, much faster rate. And grow increasingly frustrated when it doesn’t.
Also, if there’s a genuine coexisting mental health disorder? That has a substantial impact on the process and the outcome.
Face it, recovery is not and has never been a short-term process. Our expectations need to change.
Thus the movement towards longterm rather than short-term support, to minimize the risk of relapse. Life, it seems, is chock full of triggers. Quoting from the WaPo article: “Studies have found that people in drug and alcohol recovery are more likely to relapse following crises such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, and the coronavirus pandemic is a similarly disruptive, frightening situation.”
The late Dr. James Milam would have characterized that in terms of emotional augmentation, the tendency to overreact to emotional stimuli. It begins during active substance use and continues into early sobriety. Gradually improving, but at very different rates, depending on the individual.
That’s one reason for all those Twelve Step slogans along the lines of “Easy Does It”, “One Day at a Time”, “Live and Let Live”. As one AA sponsor explained, “the areas where we’re weakest.” People in recovery, he went on, have to learn how to take things as they come, stay in the present, stop treating every setback as a crisis.
Of course, the rest of us could probably improve in those areas, too. It’s just not as urgent when your nervous system is less jangly.
About the need for support during periods such as this one: the online version, for those unfamiliar, can in fact help bridge the gap until live services resume. Here’s something on the subject from the New York Times: Staying Sober During a Lockdown