Why Addiction Counseling Matters and How It Helps

MastHead Outline
February 23, 2018

The road to recovery from opioid addiction can feel like an uphill battle. To stay focused on the treatment plan for long term success is critical. Much like other chronic diseases, successful treatment of addiction requires continuous evaluation and behavior modification when necessary. With long-term addiction counseling, you become better equipped to fight the constant battle against cravings and avoid relapse. Addiction recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. The way counseling works as part of your recovery may evolve over time for you, but that’s a necessary part of the process. At the start of treatment, for example, the focus may be on identifying triggers and how to manage and cope with them when you feel anxious. During your recovery, however, the focus may turn toward past events in your life that may have brought on the addiction. Because addiction affects all areas of your life, a holistic approach to treatment is necessary. There are a variety of stressors that can make sustaining recovery challenging. Examples of stressors can include the following:

  • Mental: Sudden life stressors that leave you struggling with how to cope
  • Social: Maintaining contact with friends in your social circle who continue to use drugs while you are engaged in a treatment program
  • Physical: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms along with not getting proper sleep or proper nutrition

Counseling serves as an effective tool that helps you adopt a healthier way of managing stress. It’s also useful in changing behaviors related to drug use, improving healthy life skills and helping you stay the course with other forms of treatment. The path to counseling, however, is not always direct. Although this may seem like a natural part of the first step, there’s another support system that needs to be in place even before you arrive at therapy to help ensure a successful path to recovery. The support of family and friends. A support network creates a safety net when presented with the stressors previously mentioned. It makes you feel connected and can allow you to ask for help and encouragement.

Minding the Addiction to Recovery Gap

Opening up about addiction can be scary. However, recovery requires a team approach, which means thinking you can go it alone may not ensure your success. The first step is admitting to yourself that you need help. This is not easy because feelings of shame may push you into a state of continuous denial or avoidance. When you deny that there is a problem, you also delay treatment, which has the potential to worsen your physical and mental health. Honesty is essential here because it sets you on the path to recovery. Once you can admit to yourself that you have an addiction and are open to getting help, then admitting it to friends and family is the next step. Surrounding yourself with the necessary support takes time and patience but the benefits to long term success are worth it. Consider the following steps when you are ready to share the truth about your addiction and begin to build your support network:

  1. Take responsibility for your behavior: Explain to your family and friends that you recognize the choices that you made are your responsibility. Apologize for any way that you may have mistreated or disrespected them.
  2. Educate friends and family: Help them understand that addiction is a disease and the road to recovery is long, but speaking your truth to them is a great start down this path. Also express to them that you have a desire to change.
  3. Let them know what they can do to help: Let your friends and family know that you need their support and how they can help you research to find services such as counseling and treatment options so they understand that their participation is a key part of your recovery.

With a healthy support system in place through family and friends, moving on to treatment programs that include counseling support can be an effective way to continue the journey of recovery.

Why Counseling and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Make a Great Team

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs used together with long-term addiction counseling is another holistic approach that can help maintain recovery and has been proven to be more effective than medication alone. Since opioid use changes how the brain functions, as part of a MAT program, you will be prescribed medication that helps to:

  • Block the high received from opioids
  • Offer relief from cravings
  • Regulate brain chemistry and body function

However, the medication has none of the illicitly used opioids negative effects and has been proven clinically effective at relieving cravings and withdrawal symptoms that create chemical imbalances, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Although it may seem like the medication-assisted treatment is a cure for the addiction, adding counseling over the long term helps ensure that relapse is less likely and recovery is sustained. For example, one aspect of counseling is to ensure that you are following your individualized treatment plan including compliance with taking prescribed medication as directed by your MAT physician. The counseling component also becomes necessary because, at times, there are other underlying conditions such as trauma, anxiety or depression that may be contributing to the opioid addiction. This is called a dual diagnosis. Add to that the fact that opioids are used for pain management for those battling unrelated chronic disease, so counseling can help you learn strategies to lessen pain and function despite having pain. In order to ensure successful recovery, those issues need to be addressed as well.

What to Expect From Counseling Paired With MAT

Counseling as a part of MAT programs can look very different depending upon whether it’s done individually or in a group setting. Individual counseling gives you the opportunity to share openly with your therapist in a one-on-one setting. It’s done in confidence at a pace that’s specifically tailored to your needs and allows the therapist a very in-depth understanding of your addiction and the issues that may contribute to it. It may prove particularly helpful in instances where another mental health condition exists. Individual counseling can also help develop and improve your communication skills so you are better able to express what you need to help you stay on the recovery path. Your counselor can teach you skills to speak with confidence when looking for or maintaining a job, or to make new friends that will have a positive impact on your life and recovery. Group sessions are an opportunity to share experiences in a safe environment. They can help you recognize that you’re not the only one going through these struggles and allows you to both receive and give support. Some types of individual and/or group counseling you can expect to receive when participating in a MAT program may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of individual counseling where you learn to recognize, avoid and cope with situations that may make you vulnerable to drug use
  • Family Counseling: A form of group counseling with family members to address drug use patterns and strengthen family relationships, which may include Smart Recovery, a specialized addiction recovery support group
  • Motivational Interviewing: A counseling approach used for both individuals and groups that focuses on moving you away from uncertainty and toward motivation to encourage behavior change
  • Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Counseling that can be used in both groups and for individuals that uses moment-to-moment awareness as a type of coping tool to prevent relapse and support abstinence.

Recovery is not a finite process. It doesn’t end with treatment. That’s why long-term addiction counseling is so important. It can help you manage potential triggers, cope with stresses, improve your chances for sustained sobriety and install the necessary tools to create a lasting recovery.

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