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Breaking Barriers to Change in Addiction

Those who abuse drugs or alcohol are faced with many barriers in changing their lives from substance abusers to clean and sober living. Addiction itself is both biological and psychological and this must be dealt with in order for change to occur.

Unlocking Change

The first barrier to change for any kind of treatment program in order for recovery to occur withdrawal from the drug of choice and dealing with the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Depending upon the drug used and the treatment program chosen, if any, the withdrawal systems may be extremely painful and life threatening to mild and barely noticeable. For instance, some detox rehab centers offer rapid detox programs under general anesthesia that provide for minimal withdrawal pain.

Once sobriety is achieve through detoxification, then the addict will also have to deal with the biological and psychological cravings. Biological cravings can also be quite severe, but may also be medically managed by a doctor or rehab facility.

Psychological cravings are usually dealt with via counseling, group therapies or other groups such as 12-step groups. Substance abusers are encouraged to call non-enabling friends, family members, sponsors, mentors or others when cravings occur in order to get past the feelings in a constructive manner. Other methods that help some in dealing with the cravings is physical exercise, eating or drinking a substitute for the drugs or alcohol, such as chocolate, donuts, coffee or tea.

Some will argue that this is simply substituting one addiction for another (ie, alcohol for food), but few will argue that a pint of whisky, for instance is healthier than a couple of donuts and on the scale of things, some substitutions, especially in the beginning stages of recovery are better than staying addicted.

Besides the psychological cravings for the drug of choice, most addicts will also have a psychological dependence upon the drugs or alcohol as well. This kind of dependence deals with an addicts belief systems, self talk, self esteem and other issues that need to be dealt with through counseling, group counseling and / or with the aid of 12-step or 12-step alternative groups.

Many addicts use drugs or alcohol to begin with in order to try to self-medicate for other mental or emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder or many other issues as well. Once detoxification has taken place these issues will need to be addressed through individual and / or group counseling.

Physical pain from car accidents, wartime trauma, cancer or a whole host of physical ailments can also precipitate prescription drug abuse. Along with breaking other barriers to change, the substance abuser will also need to get help for the underlying physical pain issues as well.

Another barrier to change that must be broken in order for healing to occur is for the addict to identify any close relationships such as spouses, family members or friends that are either enablers or toxic people. In most cases, for true change to occur, the addict will need to start to limit time spent with the enablers and toxic people in their lives. The limitation may occur naturally such as when the addict is in rehab or attending 12-step meetings, which takes time away from others, including the enablers and toxic people. Or, the recovering substance abuser may need to make a conscious decision for healthier choices of which people to spend more time with and which people to spend less time with both in the short term and as a long-term goal.

Goals setting is also important in breaking barriers. Studies have shown that those with motivation and clearly defined goals for recovery and abstinence have a much higher rate of sobriety than those without clearly defined goals. Most often goal-setting of this type is accomplished with the aid of a counselor or within group counseling.

Most alcohol and drug abusers, over time, tend to isolate themselves from family, friends and others and may end up surrounded by enablers and toxic people. This unhealthy support group must be disbanded in order to break through this barrier to change. This is a huge issue for most people who may feel that their addict friends or drinking buddies are their only real friends and the only ones who understand them. The enablers and toxic people may feel rejected and rebel at the substance abuser spending less time with them or disowning them altogether.

The process of disbanding the old unhealthy support group and building (or rebuilding) and newer healthy support group will take time, effort and will be needed in order to sustain sobriety and deal with relapses over the long haul.

Other barrier to change is lack of education and managing expectations. For instance, addicts need to know that relapse is part of the recovery and to expect relapse. Through education of substance abuser about what to expect during the recovery process, it will help most get back on the wagon when a bump in the road occurs. By letting know that relapse doesn't mean failure, it simply means, getting back on the wagon and continuing forward, this will help many with making a meaningful long-term recovery and live a lifestyle of sobriety.

Some other barriers to change that will need to be dealt with in order to assure long-term recovery include jobs and employment issues, housing, education, legal issues, transportation and health insurance. Shame is also an issue that keeps some substance abusers from seeking help. Overcoming stigma and shame may be deal with in the confines of a therapist's office or an anonymous group such as a 12-step group.

Also, some parents fear that if they seek help their children will be taken from them. Drug and alcohol counselors or therapists at community clinics are often sought in order to help sort these matters out who can then refer clients to local legal counsel to help sift through the legal implications of seeking help for addictions.

No matter which issues, addicts face, though, many addicts have faced the same issues before them and now are clean and sober. An addict may think his or her problems are unique, but one of the major benefits of seeking help is to break the isolation and find out that issues with addiction are more common than not.