Addiction Recovery: A New Perspective

When you hear the phrase “Addiction Recovery,” it’s often connected to thoughts of self-denial and stringent discipline. But a new perspective on the treatment of addiction is trying to change the conversation: instead of removing an addictive substance from the subjects life through punishment, new research suggests that reward may be the stronger alternative.

According to research performed by Dr. Suzette Glasner-Edwards of UCLA’s Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, addiction has as much to do with the presence of dopamine in a victim’s system as it does with the addictive nature of the substance in question. Indeed, the research suggests that a major cause of addiction is the increased levels of dopamine that alcohol or drugs have when compared to other stimuli.

Glasner-Edward’s so-called “Behavioral Activation Therapy” focuses on replacing the triggers of dopamine in a subject’s system with healthier, but no less rewarding habits. According to Glasner-Edwards, one of the major reasons for relapse is the feeling of disappointment in routine pleasure, coupled with the seemingly joyless prospect of removing the addictive dopamine source from an addict’s life. Therefore, replacing the addictive stimulus is an important step on the road to recovery, which should be treated as an important health regimen in its own right.

The key, according to Glasner-Edwards, is to discover or reclaim sources of enjoyment in the recovering addict’s life. Something that interests and engages, and provides the sense of enjoyment that the addictive substance once provided. This includes anything from trips to a favorite location, a new avenue of study, exercise, learning a new skill, and so on—as long as the new activity is an enjoyable and healthy alternative, it fits Glasner-Edwards’ criteria. It is also important to treat the activity as a learned pattern of behavior, creating a specific schedule around seeking this source of enjoyment, and reinforcing the healthy behavior through rewards such as a favorite food or a massage. To sum up Glasner-Edwards’ theory, “rewarding healthy behaviors can establish positive habits.”

It is important to note, says Glasner-Edwards, that the recovering addict must be aware of the already established patterns of stimulus and behavior. For instance, if a certain situation is associated with substance abuse, it can trigger a relapse.

There is no one way to address addiction and substance abuse. However, research such as Dr. Suzette Glasner-Edwards’ studies into the nature of addiction and association provide new tools for addressing the challenges a recovering addict faces. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or any other unhealthy behaviors, please contact us. We’re here to get you the tools you need.