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Ya Either Quit or Ya Don’t — Redefining “Recovery”

I grew up with a super-problematic drug user of a mother. For her, someone who couldn’t ever use drugs responsibly, being in “recovery” meant not using drugs.

For most of us, however, using drugs without going completely overboard is possible. And, even though I’ve also proven myself to be a long-term, often-problematic drug user, I consider myself to be “in recovery” even though I still use drugs.

Due to mounting drug-related legal issues, I turned to medication-assisted treatment — a.k.a. Suboxone — in September 2019. My reason for seeking an alternative to illicit opioids was strictly legal in nature — I was tired of the legal consequences associated with drugs and drug paraphernalia like syringes.

Although I only used illicit opioids once in my first two months of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), I eventually returned to using heroin and diverted prescription pain pills more often. Since January or so, I’ve been reducing my illicit opioid use and the resulting problems that often follow my drug use; I’ve also improved my life in various other ways, such as cleaning my house and brushing my teeth more often.

But, still, most of modern America wouldn’t consider me as being “in recovery.”

What’s the deal? Why can’t we consider this ongoing transition I’m going through as being “in recovery”? And, even if I don’t end up quitting drugs in the long run, we should still consider this change I’m currently going through as being just that — recovery.

Changing What Recovery Means

My purpose here is to ultimately attract more long-term, often-problematic drug users and their less-problematic counterparts into bettering their lives, specifically by decreasing their drug use and any resulting drug-related problems.

I think we can go about doing this in several ways. Here are some ideas I’ve got.

Note: Even if you don’t think some or all of these ideas hold water, I hope you agree that we should, in fact, want to actively change the definition of being “in recovery” from drug addiction or otherwise-problematic drug use.

Addiction Treatment Outfits Shouldn’t Require Patients to Have Substance Use Disorder

The modern addiction recovery industry excludes countless people who don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder; they haven’t gone to jail multiple times, soiled and severed relationships with family and friends, or turned to morally-questionable means of making money.

Though I’m just an MAT program enrollee, not a provider, I understand that Suboxone programs and methadone clinics across the Volunteer State can only treat people who have opioid use disorder or are dependent on opioids. This might not be true — the state’s opioid treatment program (OTP) and office-based opioid treatment facilities (OBOT) guidelines can be found but are difficult to read through; also, since I’m not a provider, I don’t have any real-world experience with state or federal regulatory agencies and their enforcement of such guidelines. However, generally speaking, MAT programs don’t accept people unless they meet the diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder — and, yes, they treat people with alcohol use disorder, though, since I’ve got no experience with alcohol addiction treatment, I don’t want to speak on the issue.

What if Suboxone and methadone clinics accepted patients who didn’t have substance use disorder? And, more importantly, what if they still allowed patients to test positive for other drugs without potentially being fired?

Then, I wouldn’t have to worry about refrigerating “clean” urine in anticipation of drug screens. Programs wouldn’t have to waste as much money drug testing me, either, if abstaining from drugs that you’re not prescribed wasn’t a requirement — I should note that most, if not all, programs around here allow patients to test positive for THC and its metabolites, so we are able to smoke weed as an alternative to other drugs (or just smoke weed for the hell of it, for that matter).

Addiction Treatment Facilities Should Also Offer Less-Intensive Outpatient Services

Here in rural Middle and West Tennessee, the only addiction treatment outfits we’ve got are full-fledged rehabs, methadone clinics, and Suboxone programs — and I’m sure we’ve got halfway houses and sober living facilities. There might be a few facilities lingering around that don’t fit any of these five labels. Oh, and you can’t forget Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and other 12-step-based programs.

All of these outfits inherently support complete abstinence from drugs — yeah, Suboxone (buprenorphine) and methadone are both very much “drugs,” but usually aren’t “abused” with the intention of getting high — and don’t have much lenience for being “in-between,” like I am right now.

Also, I think addiction treatment providers — which can include plain-Jane mental health practices, as counseling proves helpful to many former often-problematic drug users — should offer less-intensive services that provide an added sense of structure in patients’ or clients’ lives. An example of this could be life planning.

And, yes, I recognize that this section doesn’t include many concrete, well-defined examples of “less-intensive outpatient services.” I usually don’t like writing about things unless I offer concrete, well-defined recommendations for fixing the problems I point out. However, simply sparking the conversation about redefining recovery is my primary goal here — and that’s something you can help me with.

I’m Asking You for Help

Even if you’re not involved with any addiction treatment outfits or drug user-oriented organizations, I encourage you to take to social media and ask people who are in recovery, involved in addiction treatment circles, or otherwise interested in or active with any drug-related entities to reconsider what “recovery” means. You don’t have to share this article with them — it’d be great if you did, but it’s most certainly not necessary.

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

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