This blog addresses the fifth factor “substitution,” 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 substitution 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.
I am not pursuing recovery to be bored. For me, recovery has to be the kind of thing where the juice is worth the squeeze. I used drugs and alcohol because I wanted to feel joy. Heroin was a shortcut to joy. Of course, I needed to find more sustainable ways of finding joy, connection, and fulfillment. Yoga and meditation can produce, for me, a feeling similar to an opiate high—peace and serenity. My other passion is music. I play guitar and sing in a band. I write music and enjoy the experience of improvising. There is some type of magic that can happen in making music: when everything is in the zone, inspiration has taken over and you are a channel for inspiration. That is my favorite high in the world.
Yoga, meditation, music—these things are more than capable of serving as substitutes for alcohol and drugs. In fact, they work better. However, I need to be aware of and monitor my expectations of feeling that exhilaration all the time. The chase for that can be addictive and, if I am not careful, might lead me back to drugs and alcohol. I continue to struggle balancing the benefits of joyful activity with the (addictive) need for exhilaration. But I find a sense of peace in the realization that, to some extent at least, my drive to use drugs was rooted in a core human need, but one that I had to fulfill by healthier means. The key is identifying and pursuing what, besides drugs and alcohol, makes you feel alive and connected. Over time our brains will heal and we’ll see that the drives that fueled our drug addiction can also fuel our greatest gifts.
The Five S’s—Elements of the Addiction Recovery Ecosystem
The five aspects of recovery—structure, supervision, spirituality, social support, and substitution—that I’ve discussed are symbiotic: they enhance one another and, to some extent, cannot function fully without one another. Integrating them into my life and recovery made the difference between death and life. They form a launching pad for positive momentum, action and, ultimately, transformation. We can think of this in terms of other natural transformations: a caterpillar turns into a butterfly only with the necessary conditions in place. Similarly, if I do not create the environment I need to grow, I most likely will not. Do you need to focus on these five things? Maybe not, but—based on my experience—I encourage you to explore them. Another analogy I find helpful: I do not need to use two hands to play the guitar, but I have surrendered to the idea that using two hands improves dramatically my ability to reach my goal: to bring vibrations from the guitar that bring me to a place of joyful peace—whether on a sunny day or within the storm.
I still have most of the same problems I had when I began this whole journey. What’s crucial is that my response to them has changed and continues to change. Sticking a needle in my arm is no longer my first thought when facing life’s challenges. I expect this momentum will continue to manifest itself, albeit in ways I cannot yet comprehend. I have been told that recovery will lead to a life beyond my wildest dreams. I am not sure what that means exactly, but I have the hope and the willingness to commit to finding out. Perhaps that’s how recovery begins—you gain the hope to hang in there. These five S’s give me hope and carry me forward. Remember, all rivers lead to the sea—and the sea refuses no river.
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