Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Questions About Longterm Recovery and Answers from Paul Hokemeyer

Recently I had the opportunity to get some clinical perspective from a leading addictions expert--Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, Senior Clinical Advisor at Ocean Drive-part of Caron Treatment Centers.

It was helpful to ask about things that I have been thinking about in regard to long-term recovery. Here are some of my questions for Dr. Hokemeyer and his responses. I’m very grateful for his perspective

1. Does the risk of relapse decrease with length of sobriety/recovery?

It depends on how diligently the person is working a program of recovery. In my experience, I’ve found the most effective treatment intervention for addiction is regular attendance at 12 Step meetings, and yet this is the very thing that people let slide after they enjoy a period of continuous sobriety. It’s also important for people in recovery to constantly focus on improving their physical, emotional and spiritual life.

2. Does the look and shape of recovery change after ten years? Or 20 or more?

Yes. Perhaps the most significant change comes in what I call “the pinball effect” --the feeling of being overwhelmed by the options of life. One of the gifts of aging in recovery is the ability to ignore the noise and distractions of life. In long-term sobriety, people are able to focus on the qualitative aspects of their lives, like relationships, meaningful work and peace of mind, and let go of the neurotic pursuit for quantitative fulfillment such as power, property and prestige.

3. Why do we tend to see more people of 19 years and younger in 12 Step meetings? There are many people that have 20 or more years, but where are they seeking recovery support? Are they more at risk or recovering in different ways?

In my nearly 20 years experience in the field of recovery, I’ve found that by far the most successful recovery intervention is full participation and attendance in 12 Step meetings. I think that what happens to people in the 20-plus years is that they get caught up in the drama and anxiety that comes from this “launching” phase of their lives. They put romances, finances and status in front of their recovery.  

4. As we accrue more years in recovery, should we address additional addictions, like food, work, TV, etc.? 

Absolutely. I adhere to the concept of the Addiction Syndrome that was articulated by Dr. Howard J. Shaffer at Harvard University. This concept maintains that at the core of addiction is a personality that is pulled toward self-destructive behaviors. If you’re an alcoholic and you put down a drink, you will gravitate towards another self-destructive behavior, such as compulsive sex or distorted eating. It’s a concept that’s been empirically proven, and one that I see in my practice. Caron has recently launched a new program to address the addictions that coexist. This process itself is called Addiction Interaction Disorder.

This is why we refer to recovery as a practice that must be tended to every day for life. The good news is that this practice enables people to grow in a dynamic and rewarding ways.

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