This blog addresses the fourth factor “social support,” which is integral to anyone’s addiction recovery. Whether your goal is abstinence or moderation and harm reduction, these five factors (structure, supervision, spirituality, social support and substitution) are essential components of successful and healthy drug and alcohol and other addiction recovery. What follows is Teddy Kradzinski’s personal account through therapeutic journaling of the role that social support plays in his recovery. You can link to these other important aspects of recovery at the end of this article/blog. Remember, you don’t have to have all five factors for your addiction recovery to be successful but you can’t just have one. While most of the words herein are Ted’s, I have added and edited some to include elements of George Vaillant’s evidence-based research into these factors which I call the Five S’s of Addiction Recovery. We encourage all people seeking change in their substance use, or those looking for change in other mental health areas and general well-being to explore the ways in which they are engaged in these vital areas of life. — Jeremy Frank, Ph.D., C.A.D.C., Psychologist and Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.
There is a certain awakening that begins when one starts gain freedom from addiction and starts to feel hope. I remember how lost and alone I felt. I begin to have compassion for others. I start to think less about what I can take from a meeting and more about what I can give. I begin to focus on how I can help someone else find peace and freedom. Sometimes I need help and support from another, and sometimes someone needs my help. Sometimes we give and accept help simultaneously. Rain, soil, and sunshine are all necessary to growing a garden. In the garden of humanity, I found that social support—supporting others just as I have accepted support—has given me purpose, has made me feel like a part of a whole.
AA provides excellent social support. When I go to an AA meeting or activity, I am exposed to a group of people with a common purpose and a shared predicament. We come together to help each other. When I think of AA in that simple and straightforward way, it seems silly to question whether I need to go to meetings. I want to because it helps me. And if I do not go to meetings, I cannot help others.
The article “Drug Addiction, Social Connection, and the Brain” underscores our need to connect with others: “We tested a long-standing theory—based on animal data—that suggests brain opioids contribute to feelings of connection. But no one had shown that relationship causally in humans,” writes the study’s lead author, Tristen Inagaki (Suttie 2017).The article goes on to clarify and confirm this hypothesis. We tend to see addiction as illogical, irrational, as an error. Inagaki explains the logic of addiction. As humans, we seek connection with other human beings. Inagaki states that opioid receptors play a significant role in a fulfilling social life, meaning that our opioid receptors play a crucial role in a fulfilling social interaction. Perhaps many or most addicts are missing fulfilling social connection and, instinctually, seek ways to create this experience through opioids like heroin, which produce feelings of connection. Our brains have trouble distinguishing between a healthy social experience and the destructive experience of heroin. Perhaps this is why addiction is so difficult to break—it answers, albeit in a dysfunctional way, our instinctual human drive to connect. For that reason especially, strong social support is essential to sustainable recovery—it is medicine for the brain.
Beyond AA, I am part of a book club that meets every two weeks or so. We integrate supportive discussions into this book club, and that stimulates a supportive network. I host meditation sessions at my house and am part of a yoga community that offers social support in a spiritual context. Learning the value of social support in AA has given me the wisdom to seek community in all avenues of my life. We are social beings. When I accept and act upon that notion I feel more connected to other people—and less likely to seek the feeling of connection through a drink or drug.
Vaillant, G. E. (2005). “Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39(6), 431–436. https://doi.org/10.1080/j.1440-1614.2005.01600.x
Miller, W. R., A. Forcehimes, M. J. O’Leary, and M. D. LaNoue (2008). “Spiritual direction in addiction treatment: two clinical trials.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 35(4), 434-42.
Suttie, J. (n.d.). “Drug Addiction, Social Connection, and the Brain.” Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/drug_addiction_social_connection_and_the_brain