In a recent interview, Dr. Michael Weiner of Guardian Recovery Network discusses the long term nature of addiction treatment the similarities between that and chronic disease management. He also deconstructs the stigma around recovery.

Addiction Recovery: A Lifetime Commitment and Journey

When someone checks into rehab, many people have a perception of someone walking into a hospital. They are treated for their health problem and simply released back into the world clean, sober and ready to resume a normal life. The reality could not be further from this. Recovery if a lifetime commitment.

Successful recovery requires an overall change in attitude and lifestyle, which are by no means simple feats. A willing to listen, learn and change your thinking, however, are the major tools you need to be successful. With these improved attitudes, the journey does not have to be a rocky road.

Dr. Michael Weiner, a Clinical Consultant for The Guardian Recovery Network in Delray Beach, says this misconception is the product of how addiction is normally treated. “It’s not unlike the flu,” he explained. “You get sick, you treat it intensely, and when you get better you go on your merry way.” He further details that the discharge people receive when they leave a treatment facility may actually feed into this notion, which is part of the issue.

Addiction Treatment Models: The Old Model vs. the New

Dr. Weiner says that the solution to this misconception is to treat addiction for what it is – a chronic disease – with a chronic care model. This requires ditching a time-based prognosis at the outset of treatment. Telling someone they need 28 days of care or any amount of time makes it seem as though treatment ends at some point. In reality, addiction is a condition that must be managed through a lifetime.

Treatment, in effect, never ends – it simply just changes degrees and forms. “We need to be making recommendations based on symptoms,” Dr. Weiner says. “Diseases have symptoms. If the symptoms are extreme then a person needs residential care, but as the symptoms start to get better the level of treatment can go down….chronic diseases need check-ups.”

Check-ups can help to pick up on the different circumstances that people go through as they recover. Different treatment settings may become more appropriate as someone moves through recovery, or maybe the obstacles they face change as life naturally changes. Being aware of these changes can help to ensure recovery efforts are sustainable throughout life.

Stigma in Addiction: Changing the Conversation

Part of recognizing the lifelong nature of addiction and recovery is understanding that how we talk about recovery matters. Although society’s understanding of addiction has evolved, there are still stigmas present. Some people hold on to the idea that an addiction is the result of a moral deficit or weakness. Shame has carried forward through the years, which makes recovery efforts difficult for people with addictions.

The term “relapse,” in particular is a shameful term. The shame associated with relapse might cause someone in recovery to stop going to meetings and stop going to their therapists because they do not want to face it. People with other chronic diseases who “relapse” are not viewed the same way as recovering addicts who go through recurrence. As a society we need to be more soft and understanding about potential mistakes. Addiction relapse is counter-productive in describing the recovery process.

Luckily, people are recognizing the need to change how events in recovery are described. “I prefer the term recurrence,” explains Dr. Weiner. “I think there are changes coming in the field. I think in a decade there will be a lot of differences in language.”

Even the word “addict” is problematic when describing someone who abuses substances or someone in recovery. “Addict” is a descriptive term that implies a whole being, when actually addiction is just one component of who they are. “Substance use disorder” is a much more accurate way of describing a person. For example, instead of describing someone with a drinking problem as an “alcoholic,” it is more useful and productive to refer to them as someone with a “alcohol use disorder.”

Guardian Recovery Network: A Progressive Champion of Recovery

Dr. Weiner imparts his wisdom on addiction treatment to the Guardian Recovery Network, which helps to ensure treatment facilities are modern and comprehensive in how they approach residents and clients.

“Guardian does case management,” explained Dr. Weiner. “If someone in recovery loses a loved one, the case manager can recommend grief counseling. People over time are going to need different services.”

Such individualized treatment plans can help keep people on the path to recovery. In the best case scenario, everyone has a long life to live. The amount of changes that happen throughout a lifetime is significant, and as such recovery specialists of all levels need to be involved to react and treat accordingly.

The full interview with Dr. Weiner can be found at: