Addiction is recognized as a complex disorder that involves biological, psychological, social, and spiritual components and therefore must be conceptualized and treated utilizing the biopsychosocial-spiritual model. A clinical and preventative approach to addiction is much more effective than the traditional punitive approaches taken by the criminal justice system. As we move away from the past approaches to addiction toward more innovation, we now understand that addiction is a “brain disease” that affects all areas of life and requires long-term comprehensive integrated treatment.
Many variables have shaped our understanding of addiction over time including historical, cultural, political, economic, and societal influences, which in turn have determined our approaches to managing the devastating and far-reaching consequences of substance misuse and related addictive behaviors. As the addiction treatment field has evolved, it continues to move away from punitive dogmatic approaches to more client centered holistic approaches. Strengths based models of addiction treatment integrate a variety of influential components that enhance our understanding and ability to effectively treat the entire individual within his or her social, cultural, psychological, and biological contexts.
The strengths based perspective of mental illness and its application to addiction treatment is an especially encouraging paradigm shift within the field of psychology. Traditionally, addiction has been viewed as a “moral failing” that should be met with punishment and/or removal from society. With the growing body of research on addiction, we now know that such an approach is counterproductive and fails to address the complex biopsychosocial components of this disease. With an increasing focus on human strengths, well-being, empowerment, and resilience, long-term recovery becomes possible for countless individuals previously discarded by society.
Effective and integrated treatment models offer hope, guidance, dignity, and respect for the suffering individual. When treating individuals suffering from substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders one of the most valuable messages we can offer is the unwavering belief that recovery is possible and that the individual possesses the inherent capacity to heal and find wholeness again. Addiction brings the individual to a place of such complete hopelessness and despair. Strengths based treatment modalities offer the individual a restored sense of possibility and hope. Without this, the suffering individual is unlikely to take the necessary steps toward positive change.
Furthermore, the strengths based perspective and approach to addiction treatment is essential when it comes to reducing the shame and stigma often associated with addiction. Cultural, historical, societal, and familial assumptions about addiction often influence the addict’s view of him or her self, thereby reinforcing self-defeating beliefs and loss of hope. These self-defeating beliefs in turn fuel addictive compulsions creating a debilitating cycle of substance misuse. It is through compassion, fellowship, and the resilience of the human spirit that these destructive beliefs and assumptions can be challenged and replaced with an appreciation for the individual’s inherent strengths and ability to heal.
As the field of psychology, and addiction specifically, continues to grow, we have developed an increasingly sophisticated understanding of human behavior, the brain, interpersonal functioning, emotion, cognition, physiology, and spirituality. Addiction, once considered to be an inherent moral failing, is now better understood as a “brain disease” that requires a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach to treatment. The strengths based approach to addiction treatment highlights the individual’s inherent resilience and ability to recover, as opposed to more traditional perspectives from the past that focus exclusively on pathology. This paradigmatic shift in our understanding of mental illness is a key component to reducing the stigma associated with addiction and the resulting punitive approaches that our society has historically taken to manage the epidemic of addiction.
As we move toward an increasingly proactive approach to addiction treatment that includes preventative measures and compassionate innovative treatment that empowers and educates individuals, the hope is that recovery will become more accessible and successful than it has been in the past. It has become increasingly apparent that cultural, historic, and global assumptions about addiction and recovery must be challenged in order to effectively treat addiction. Approaches that focus on restorative justice, rehabilitation (as opposed to incarceration), and holistic treatment modalities are showing promising results in terms of bridging the gap between research and practice. Overall, the integration of a variety of treatment approaches and options coupled with cultural shifts in the conceptualization of addiction are yielding encouraging outcomes and growing opportunities to continue positive developments in the field of addiction treatment.