Addiction Management Blog

Archive for October, 2009

Embracing the idea of addiction management

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

I believe basic truths in life get repackaged in unique or creative ways throughout time, resurfacing in books, self-help strategies, stories, movies, or movements. When these things come on to our radar seemingly for the first time, we either embrace them and they become big hits, or we reject or dismiss the ideas because the timing is off - our society is not yet ready.

mgmt-of-addictions1How to deal with addiction is one of these “basic truths.” Although mankind has behaved in excessive ways for centuries, only in the past couple-hundred years has society evolved the idea of excessive behavior being called “addiction” and requiring intervention. And, only in the past 5 to 10 years has society been ready to accept the basic truth that addictions are problems that we manage over long periods of time, similar to other chronic conditions. In 1955 the book Management of Addictions was published, offering a collection of treatment approaches for alcohol and drug abuse problems. Although the interventions outlined in the book provide significant evidence for how far we have come in our treatments, what I find most interesting is that over 50 years ago a collection of healthcare professionals embraced the idea of “management” in dealing with addiction.

Yet today, we give lip service to addiction being a chronic condition and still largely treat it as an acute problem, where average treatment stays can be measured in days or months. At an addiction treatment conference not long ago, I was frustrated by the complete lack of discussion about how to transform our current acute-based system into one that truly embraced addiction as a chronic condition. It was the elephant in the living room, yet folks went on and on about this ear and that toe…little incremental band-aid solutions to treatment - completely ignoring the opportunity to truly talk about how we might improve care for millions through systems-level change.

I don’t blame them. We have invested a lot in our current system, and many have built careers around the status quo. But the time is right to envision a new treatment enterprise that truly embraces addiction as a chronic condition and wisely utilizes resources to optimize long-term patient outcomes. Idealistic? Maybe so, but the status quo presently sees less than 10 percent of those in need of help, staff turnover in treatment programs is higher than in the fast food industry, and of those fortunate enough to have access to treatment, most do so multiple times. We can and we must do better.

What does it mean to manage addiction? We know manage is a verb that implies action. So, what actions are necessary to get us where we need to be, both with our treatment system and in helping individuals who struggle? Here are a few things to get us started:

  • We know multiple treatment episodes are costly because often patients require intensive services (detox, residential, transitional housing, etc.) upon each admission. We should find creative ways to incentivize or reward treatment providers who can keep patients in treatment for years, decreasing costly hospital admissions and residential stays.
  • We need to leverage technology and the fact that over 70 percent of folks in the U.S. have high-speed Internet, and many of those who don’t, can still access it now in many public places. Recent evidence suggests that computer-based treatments may be as effective as individual or group counseling. Are human counselors soon to be replaced by robots? Likely not, but there is little doubt that in the years to come computer/Internet-based interventions will play a critical role in healthcare delivery.
  • Addiction treatment providers (and patients) should beg, steal (ok, maybe not steal), borrow, utilize, and adapt management interventions from diverse disciplines. Significant research has been devoted to the topic of how best to manage chronic conditions, such as the chronic care model. Let’s not reinvent the wheel, but seek out what others have done, and bring practical, useful, easy-to-implement behavioral management tools to those who need them now.

It’s your turn. What can we do to start transforming our current acute-based addiction treatment system into one that is similar to how primary care treats other chronic medical conditions? What self-management or disease-management tools do you believe are the most helpful? How might we package these tools to make them more accessible to the 90 percent who presently are on their own to deal with addiction?

Addiction in society? Let me count the ways…

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I know it has been far too long since my last post, but I honestly have an excuse – I have had no time recently to blog. Well, this is not really true, because how we spend our time is based on how we prioritize what must get done. So the more correct answer is - I could have blogged, but other things in my life took precedence.

In the recently published book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher makes a case that life ultimately adds up to what you choose to pay attention to. This got me thinking about how addiction has evolved (and adapted) to our changing world, and the ways in which we are all more vulnerable to excessive (addictive) behaviors – or at least exposed to far more triggers or precursors of excessive behavior:

  • Food: Not long ago I had the pleasure to hear Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, speak about the link between food and addiction. In brief, his talk was shocking, sad, and made me really mad. He provided a very empirically-based overview of how the food industry, food marketers (guerrilla, viral, stealth), and chemistry explain a great deal of our current epidemic of obesity. Check out slide 71, where pop manufacturers used baby bottles to package soda – absolutely disgusting!
  • Drugs: If the 60′s/70′s were about heroin/LSD/etc., the 80′s were about cocaine, the 90′s about methamphetamine, the drug-object of addiction for our current times is prescription drugs. Why? They are readily available, many believe the myth that they are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a health care professional, anyone can learn about them online, and we currently live in a culture that seeks quick fix solutions to problems.
  • Sex: Advancements in multimedia technologies have been led by the porn industry. Today, anyone can act-out their fantasies in cyberspace through avatars in second life, or find their sexual cup of tea online. Sex also sells products today more than ever, and marketeers continue to up the ante in ads of all kinds. And a day does not go by that some celebrity ends up in the news for infidelity (David Letterman, Jude Law, Ethan Hawke, John Edwards, Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton – need I say more?) Is it all bad? The flip side of the coin argues that what we need in our every day lives is sexual intelligence.   
  • Reality Television: The evolution of reality television has resulted in many people spending inordinate amounts of time living in illusory worlds. When people lack the development capacities to initiate, form, and maintain healthy relationships, then relationships depicted in reality shows provide an easy out. We can get caught up in the lives of those we find interesting or are attracted too – their relationships, struggles, and triumphs – and then cheat ourselves of real relationships living only vicariously through those on television.
  • Social Networking Websites: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and other social networking sites have fueled a new generation of social interactions, but research into the depth of social networks today reveals a very sad conclusion: We are becoming more and more isolated in our everyday lives. In a well-designed general social survey comparing social networks in 1985 to those in 2004, the number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important life matters nearly tripled! Seems like isolation may be a trigger for wanting an escape…
  • Trauma: I continue to be amazed at the degree to which news makers will go to grab the attention of an audience. Traumatic, horrific, terrifying events happen every day, but now they are brought right into our living room in graphic detail via YouTube, Internet news sites, and other multimedia channels. Sure 9/11 changed a lot, but stories about children being brutally attacked, tortured, locked away, thrown over bridges and left for dead, or kidnapped, raped and held captive for years – and that is just the tip of the iceberg – how are we to take-in these violent images and stories? How are we to process them? Make sense of them? Or have we just desensitized ourselves to such stories? And how does exposure to this type of media motivate our desire to escape into fantasy?
  • Time: I began this post apologizing for not blogging because of a lack of time. Despite all the new time-saving gadgets I utilize, I still don’t seem able to keep up with the pace of our fast moving society. Fast food, twitter, blazing high-speed Internet, sound bite news, packed calendars, energy drinks, and did I mentioned residential treatment for addictions in under five days? In the book In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore challenges our way of life in the age of speed. I like both the book and his TED talk because they help us understand how the pace of our society promotes our need for quick fixes, quick releases, and quick highs. Perhaps one solution to addiction is just to slow down life.

William James said “My experience is what I agree to attend to”,  but it seems that we are increasingly living in a world where the choice of what to attend to is being made for us.