Substance Abuse Counseling Theories Substance Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

It has been argued that despite this fact, because substance abuse treatment has been developed by men, for men, it emerged "as a single-focused intervention based on the needs of addicted men." (Covington 2008). Without empowering substance abusers whose lives have become severely impaired in terms of basic life functioning, treating the abuse or disability as a purely biological function will have little effect, and only address the physical withdrawal symptoms, and surrendering to the addiction may not address the need to seek out new, positive social relationships and to actively construct an environment that does not facilitate the addiction.

Even addicts with jobs who are minimally socially functional may have social structures revolving around their addiction. In the case of many women in particular, the life pattern of being involved with an abusive partner, which may have driven the women to abuse drugs in the first place, becomes a cycle of addiction and dependence upon an abusive person for self-esteem, access to drugs, and economic support. For patients who are substance abusers in economically deprived area where drug addiction is normalized, removing the patient from the subculture and the environment, and supplementing treatment with vocational support may be more important as the personally-focused, small, anonymous setting of AA or NA. The individual may also need more outside assistance than is typically provided by the person-focused AA approach.

Non 12-step advocates believe treatment must be holistic and consistent, and counselors who focus only on the addiction and cannot assume other issues will "resolve themselves" (Covington 2008). The attitude that other problems may 'resolve themselves' is only appropriate if the other problems have their root cause n the addiction. But a woman married to an abuser, for whom enduring abuse is a common life pattern, may need additional social support for education, vocational assistance, and a way to reconfigure her life and self-esteem, even if she is committed to recovery. "Treatment for women's addictions is apt to be ineffective unless it acknowledges the realities of women's lives, which include the high prevalence of violence and other types of abuse. A history of being abused increases the likelihood that a woman will abuse alcohol and other drugs" (Covington 2008). Relapse is likely if a viable alternative life is not supported -- the individual's life must not just be drug-free, but the cultural conditions that facilitate drug use must be altered. This requires empowering the patient, rather than stressing the patient's powerlessness. But it also takes some of the burden off of the patient that relapses are his or her fault, and strives to create a better environment to support his or her needs.

Rather than the searing self-criticism of AA and traditional 12-step programs, reality therapy focuses upon creating a trusting environment for the client: "Since unsatisfactory or non-existent connections with people we need are the source of almost all human problems, the goal of reality therapy is to help people reconnect. This reconnection almost always starts with the counselor/teacher first connecting with the individual, and then using this connection as a model for how the disconnected person can begin to connect with the people he or she needs" (Reality therapy, 2008, International Journal of Reality Therapy). For substance abusers, the disconnection is often profound, and results in the abuser being frozen in a subculture and lifestyle that revolves around drugs. Freeing the addict from this subculture is essential, but little benefit will result from pressuring the individual to 'just quit.' Reality therapy stresses the counselor should "remain non-judgmental and non-coercive, but encourage people to judge all they are doing by the Choice Theory axiom: Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need? If the choice of behaviors is not getting people closer, then the counselor works to help them find new behaviors that lead to a better connection" (Reality therapy, 2008, International Journal of Reality Therapy).

This stress upon choice is counter-intuitive to many therapists trained in the 12-step model, which stresses giving over control to a higher power, and the addict's powerlessness over his or her addiction. It also runs counter to some other proposed models such as the "Women's Integrated Treatment (WIT) model. This model is based on three foundational theories: relational-cultural theory, addiction theory, and trauma theory. It also recommends gender-responsive, trauma-informed curricula to use for women's and girls' treatment services" (Covington 2008). Attempts to treat the addict by focusing on the past run counter to reality therapy's core schema of beliefs. Instead the reality therapist keeps the "focus on the present and avoid discussing the past because all human problems are caused by unsatisfying present relationships" (Reality therapy, 2008, International Journal of Reality Therapy).

One patient with positive experiences of reality therapy chronicled her experiences as thus: the victim of sexual abuse as a child, who had repeated this pattern with many of her current relationships, she stated: "drinking till puking" became her way of dealing with the pain of her abuse. She also exhibited other features of a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), including self-harm and sexual promiscuity for approval rather than pleasure. "What terrified me more than anything ever had was that nothing and no one else could help me anymore," she wrote (Caplin 2008). Choice therapy, however, rather than a focus on her past or surrendering to a higher power saved her, she believed. After several sessions, the methodology began to 'click:' "I was lying in bed crying and had a little talk with myself; it went as follows, 'am I happy with my current situation?' 'No' 'do I need to change it', 'yes', 'how am I going to do that…if I'm going to live, then I need to start living, really living'. I didn't look back after that night; it took a long time and it was by no means easy. It was an uphill battle of baby steps, and sometimes I slipped, but for the first time in my life I was not being controlled by anyone but myself" (Caplin 2008).

The patient's inner dialogue, internalized after many sessions with a reality therapist shows that the decisions the therapy forces upon the client are indeed 'hard work.' Reality therapy stresses a self-actualizing pursuit of one's own needs and seeking out connections with others, rather than a drug: "Optimally, need fulfillment considers each partner. Although the process of meeting one or more needs is continuous, the relationship must fulfill each need. That is, you meet each need concurrently with the other. The personality is, in the final analysis, the method by which each person fulfills needs" (Mickel & Hall 2009).


Evidence suggests that 12-step programs are not conclusively more effective than non-12 step programs to treat addiction. This indicates that treatment strategies should be individualized for the client, and the therapist should treat the client in an individualized fashion. Addiction is not a generic disease, and different approaches may benefit different people, based upon the substance they abused and their demographic characteristics as well as their psychological profile. Addiction is a biological, sociological, as well as a psychological condition, and while the client and his or her addiction will determine which aspects of the treatment plan should be emphasized, no therapist should be so doctrinaire as to ignore one facet at the expense of the others, simply because of a theoretical model. Responsiveness is essential.

Reality therapy did not develop as a method of treating an individual holistically in a social environment, but focused on personal empowerment and connectiveness. However, used correctly, by empowering the addict to seek recovery, and change facets of his or her life, the addict can change some of the negative social conditions that facilitated his or her addiction, such as bad relationships, poor self-esteem fostered by gender bias and racism in society, and economic inequalities. Reality therapy has a focus on seeking out positive connections to create change. Doing away with negative drug-promoting friends and lifestyle choices, and replacing them with positive ones, is the core of an effective recovery (Reality therapy, 2009, Simpson College).

Works Cited

Bakalar, Nicholas. (2006, July 25). Review sees no advantage in 12-step programs.

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Buddy, T. (2009, March 7). Are you a functional alcoholic? Retrieved September 27, 2009 at

Caplin, M. (2009). Balancing the scales - a personal journey. International Journal of Reality

Therapy, 28(2), 55-56. Retrieved September 27, 2009, from ProQuest Psychology

Journals. (Document ID: 1708436601).

Covington, S. (2008). Women and addiction: A trauma-informed approach. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs: 377-85. Retrieved September 27, 2009, from ProQuest Medical

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Davis, D. & G. Jansen. (1998, March). Making meaning of Alcoholics Anonymous for social workers: Myths, metaphors, and realities. Social Work. 43(2), 169-182.

Hutchison, L. & Craig Blakely. (2009). Substance abuse: Trends in rural areas.

Healthy People 2010. Volume 1. Retrieved September 27, 2009 at

Mickel, E. & C. Hall. (2009). Choosing to love: Basic…

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