Sunday, 31 August 2008

New Seminal Monograph from William L White

I'm back after a period of looking after my three youngest children during their summer visit - and a period of recovery!

I have just received notification from William L White of his new publication, 'Recovery Management and Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care: Scientific Rationale and Promising Practices', that has just gone to press and can be downloaded from the Faces and Voices of Recovery website. As pointed out by Arthur C. Evans in his Prologue, this monograph will be regarded as a seminal work in the addictions treatment literature, as it is the most comprehensive attempt to lay out the empirical support for moving to recovery-oriented systems of care.
In America, there is a major shift in thinking about how we must help people overcome serious substance use problems. There is a shift away from focusing on the problem (addiction) to focusing on the lived solution (long-term addiction recovery). There is also 'a shift away from crisis-oriented, professionally directed, acute-care approach with its emphasis on isolated treatment episodes, to a recovery management approach that provides long-term supports and recognizes the many pathways to healing.' 
This approach is key to society improving long-term outcomes of addiction treatment. We in the UK have no option but to follow the approach being adopted in America. Our overall success as a nation in helping people overcome serious substance use problems and find recovery has been disappointing over recent years, despite a significant investment in funding from government. 
Whilst a shift to a recovery-oriented system of care represents a major challenge for this country, we are very fortunate in being able to read the writings of Bill White and implement the changes that are being advocated. White is providing a framework that can be used to guide the planning of policy makers and help them understand the key issues that must be addressed.   
I urge people working in this field to read this seminal monograph! There is a lot to take in and think about, but the people suffering from substance use problems deserve us devoting the attention that is needed.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Therapeutic principles underlying behavioural change and recovery

What are the key therapeutic principles that underlie behavioural change and recovery? Here are some of my reflections on this issue. These principles need to be an integral part of any treatment programme that aims to help people find their path to recovery. What do you think?

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Reflections on Treatment

Firstly, if you were waiting for my Blogs in the second part of the week, my apologies. My three youngest children have come to stay with me for their summer holidays, before moving abroad with their mother. I will also be wanting to spend as much time as possible with them this week.

Last week, I reflected on recovery and pointed out that formal treatment was one form of help that can help a person move along their path to recovery. I attach a short document which outlines some other thoughts about treatment.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Some Words on Recovery

I had a nice comment on yesterday's Blog - thanks Mike! He went on to say that he will be sending my Blog to his boss at the DAAT where he  works as the latter is 'striving to develop his understanding of the whole recovery debate.' I have often wondered how many DAAT teams read my Blogs - and how many understand the concept of recovery.

Following on from yesterday's Blog on 'drug, set and setting', I have linked to a short document that I wrote some months ago on recovery from heroin addiction. Hope you find it useful. I am writing much more detailed material on recovery for our forthcoming online community site. Stay tuned.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The role of 'drug, the person and their social context' in the development of problematic drug use and recovery

In yesterday's Blog, I pointed out that the effects of a drug (or alcohol) on an individual are determined by an interaction between the drug, the person and their social context (commonly known as 'drug, set and setting' in the field). This principal holds in a variety of situations.

For example, the ‘person’ and ‘social context’ factors influence early substance use and the likelihood that a person will develop problematic use and addiction. In general, individuals are less likely to develop substance use problems if they have fewer complicating life problems, more resources (social, personal, educational, economic), and opportunities for alternative sources of reward. One explanation is that these individuals develop a weaker attachment to the substance in that for them substance use does not serve as many emotional, psychological or social needs.
On the other hand, people are in general more likely to develop substance use problems if they have complicated personal problems (e.g. co-occurring mental health issues), few personal resources, and live in a deprived social environment offering few alternative rewards. 
Serious substance use problems often occur as part of a larger cluster of psychological, medical, family and social problems. However, it must be remembered that addiction can affect anyone, whatever their age, gender, financial situation, family stability, intellect, religion, or race. 
A variety of factors can change problematic substance use once it has developed. For some people, the problems are transitional in nature and they mature out of them as their setting changes, e.g. other life events become more significant, such as setting up a home with a loved one. Other people spend years misusing substances and suffering negative consequences and losses, before dying without overcoming their problems.  Most people, however, experience multiple attempts either to stop using or to bring their use under better control before they eventually resolve their substance use problems.
The ease with which people overcome substance use problems, and achieve recovery from addiction, is largely dependent on two factors, namely problem severity and recovery capital. Recovery capital is the quantity and quality of internal (‘person’) and external (‘social context’) resources that one can bring to bear on the initiation and maintenance of recovery. The interaction of problem severity and recovery capital shapes both the prospects of recovery and the intensity and duration of resources (e.g. formal treatment) required to initiate and sustain recovery.
In general, it is easier to resolve substance use problems at earlier and less severe stages of problem development. Moreover, substance use problems are easier to overcome if a person has good internal and external resources.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Vietnam War Experience

Most people assume that the effects of psychoactive drugs are fixed and predictable, being dependent on their physiological actions in the brain. In fact, the psychological effects of a drug are also dependent on a variety of characteristics of the individual, as well as the influence of the social context in which the drug is taken. In the field, this is known as 'drug, set and setting'.

If we are to better understand the impact of drugs and alcohol on the lives of individuals, and help them find their path to recovery from addiction, then we need to appreciate the importance of 'drug, set and setting'. Sadly, this is not a widely appreciated fact in the field.
Many people assume that once you have tried heroin you become addicted to the drug. It is also commonly assumed that it is extremely difficult to give up using heroin. Whilst this may be the case for many people, it is not for many others. The most dramatic illustration of this point, and of the role of 'setting' in addiction and recovery, is provided by research conducted with US soldiers returning from the Vietnam War.   
Please read about this fascinating research study in the attached short document.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The 100th Posting

So this is it, the 100th post on this Blog. Not quite my 100th, since Lucie and Kevin posted some material whilst I was on holiday, but all the same I feel chuffed.

For regular readers, you will know that my colleagues and I at Wired In are committed to radically altering the way that society helps people overcome serious substance use problems. We are strong recovery advocates. We aim to show people affected by serious substance use problems and addiction how others have found their path to recovery. We want to help create a society that is more understanding of addiction and provides a better environment for individuals and families trying to find recovery.
I would like to use three quotes in this 100th posting, quotes that have influenced the way that I think about this field. The first two quotes are from the Tom Peters book, 'Re-imagine!', a book that has nothing to do with substance use problems.
'Some people look for things that went wrong and try to fix them. I look for things that went right and try to build on them.' Bob Stone 
'Find Heroes. Do Demos. Tell Stories'
The final quote is one I have used before, from 'Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America' by William L. White.
'In the future, this locus will be shifted from the institution to the community itself. Treatment will be something that happens in indigenous networks of recovering people that exist within the broader community. The shift will be from the emotional and cognitive processes of the client to the client’s relationships in a social environment. With this shift will come an expansion of the role of clinician to encompass skills in community organization. Such a transition does not deny the importance of the reconstruction of personal identity and other cognitive and emotional processes – or of the physical; processes of healing – in addiction recovery. But it does recognize that such processes unfold within a social ecosystem and that this ecosystem, as much as the risk and resiliency factors in the individual, tips the scales toward recovery or continued self-destruction.'

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Aims of our Upcoming Online Recovery Community

Yesterday, I reported progress on our new web community site which we expect to launch at in the autumn. I was re-reading a section of Bill White's paper, 'The Rhetoric of Recovery Advocacy: An Essay on the Power of Language' today, the part that focuses on the goals of the new Recovery Movement in America. I was reminded that the aims of our new community site are very similar to those described by Bill White in his manuscript.

1. To show that there are many diverse pathways to recovery from serious substance use problems and addiction.
2. To provide living role models who illustrate the diverse range of recovery solutions.  
3. To provide information and tools to help people find recovery using: (a) their own personal psychological resources; (b) the support and help of loved ones and friends, and (c) community-based treatment and other support services.
4. To help reduce prejudice towards substance misusers and their families, to create a society that is more understanding and supportive of recovery from substance use problems.
5. To enhance the variety, availability and quality of recovery support services at local, national and international levels.
Please get involved in our new web community!
I've now launched the 'Wired In to Recovery' channel on vimeo which provides higher quality video than on YouTube. Check out our first three film clips. And why not subscribe so you can be updated each time we launch more material?

The Upcoming Wired In Online Recovery Community: An Update on Progress

I was thrilled on Friday to receive an email from Nathan Pitman of Nine Four to say that I can start loading content onto our new website, which will be located at He has completed a good deal of work on our content management system. 

This doesn't mean that the website will be ready for viewing in the near future, as we have lots of content to load and much testing to do. However, it will be ready sometime in the autumn. Some of our close colleagues will be getting an earlier sneak preview and helping us trouble shoot.
The new website will be an online recovery community, a place where people can meet and interact, learn about recovery and addiction, contribute content, and help others. We will be offering personal web pages where you can show your personal profile, write a Blog, and get involved in other activities. The best of the material generated by our community members will be highlighted on one of three channel pages - Users/Ex-Users, Families and Practitioners - and on Daily Dose. We will be using a variety of social networking tools to get more people involved from around the world.
I am so excited as I have been dreaming about this online community ever since I first read Amy Jo Kim's excellent book on web communities seven years. Have tried to get funding to set up and maintain a community in the past, but no such luck.
There is no doubt that this web community can be very special, helping people affected by substance use problems and acting as a recovery advocacy centre to improve and widen the understanding of recovery and addiction in society. However, its success will depend on you!
Nathan will be posting sneak previews of the site on our Flickr pages. I have also attached a short video on recovery from our recently set up vimeo channel
If you want to be informed of our latest news, you can sign up to an RSS feed on the right side of this Blog.
PS. I should point that whilst I have some money to fund the initial development of this online community, I need to raise a good deal of funding to keep it maintained. I start making approaches to potential sponsors or other funders when my children finish their holiday visit with me in a few weeks time. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Watch Mike Ashton talking about addiction and recovery

I recently watched some film clips of Mike Ashton, a leading researcher taking part in the Lifeline film series, which re-emphasised to me the unjust way that society treats people with a drug problem. And helps exacerbate the drug problem. I can strongly recommend a quick look at Mike's film clips.
In society today, we have a climate that works against people overcoming drug use problems. We stigmatise people with a drug problem, in particular those who use heroin. We criminalise users and make it more difficult for them to find social support, housing and a job. We make it more difficult for them to access treatment by placing the treatment system within the criminal justice system - many users feel they will be stigmatised by accessing this system. The leader of the National Treatment Agency even tells problematic drug users that the only reason the government is interested in helping them is because heroin users are a threat to society because of the crime they commit.
People with a drug problem are often told that they have a chronic relapsing condition (addiction) and given little hope that they can overcome their problem. The social capital that they require to help them on the path to recovery has often been stripped away - as a society we contribute to this stripping away, and do not help alleviate the situation as much as we could.
People with drug and alcohol problems need to help themselves in finding their path to recovery. However, it is very much easier for them to do this when they have the understanding and support of people close to them and in the wider community.