Believe me, or not, trust is something that has been emphasized in addiction treatment for many years. One can hardly argue that it has become one of the usual suspects in the life stories of most recovering drug users.
In this post, I write about two main findings of my latest research published in the current issue of the Czech academic journal Adiktologie (Addictiology). Although they may not be the key findings, which I discovered, this blog gives me an opportunity to illuminate what I feel people should take away from this paper.
This comes with no surprise – trust is key for building or restoring relationships of all people. No matter if they have drug problems, or not. In this way, my research confirmed what common sense tells us without any special knowledge of research. Re-prioritisation of relationships during treatment was facilitated by the experience of help, support and restoration of trust in relationships.
Because I was able to look at the pre-recovery years of drug users lives, when they actively used drugs, I could go with the trust issue a little further. Changes in relationship priority during active drug use occurred on the basis of barriers (e.g. the need to obtain drugs, stigma), which restrained active drug users from engaging in and maintaining the social relationships.
This research has further deepened my understanding of how problem drug users function and indeed how similar they are to people who don’t have drug problems. Some readers may not like this, but they may be less different to ‘us’ than we thought. The key factors
that keep them function in a way that is hardly acceptable by the main-stream population are drug-related barriers. These barriers prevent them from engaging in the usual social life pleasures, such as keeping in touch with non-drug-using friends, visiting parents etc. My research highlighted that they don’t do these things because they have different priorities, which are not compatible with them (See Figure 1 below).
Saying that they are not bothered with relationships or that they’ve no interest in them is too simplistic, and as suggested by this research, not true. Other research showed that people with drug problems do engage in social relationships, pro-social activities, social relationships, raising children – they just don’t do it in a way that ‘we’ are willing to accept. The question that remains to be answered by future research is what would happen if the barriers of engaging in culturally-acceptable social activities were removed? Would ‘they’ be more like ‘us’? The first signals supporting this question come from the opioid agonist treatment. People maintained on pharmaceutical opioids, substituting their illicit drug use, lead more stable lives, commit less crime and have better chances of being employed than people without these substitutes.
Background: interpersonal problems among drug users (DU) are frequent, are related to other problems, and improve during the addiction treatment.
Aims: to better understand changes in relationships which occur in the course of drug use and drug treatment, as well as their subjective appraisal by ex-drug users, using retrospective methodology.
Method: semi-structured interviews with DUs in a therapeutic community (TC) were analysed with descriptive-interpretive method. The coding of interview transcripts into categories was performed in two phases using qualitative software NVivo 7. Five interviews were coded in the pilot phase, followed by an audit by an external psychologist and progressive coding of the rest of the transcripts, with data saturation being reached in the second phase.
Participants: nine male and one female client, aged 18-36 years (mean: 25.9), participated in the study and the length of their stay in the TC was 2-35 months (mean: 9.9). The approximate mean age of drug use onset was 15.6 years (12-28).
Results: the analysis provided 21 categories which were divided into three domains based on chronological order. Changes in relationship priority during active drug use occurred on the basis of barriers (such as the need to obtain drugs and stigma), which restrained active DUs from engaging in and maintaining their social relationships. Re-prioritisation of relationships during treatment was facilitated by the experience of help, support and the restoration of trust in relationships.
Conclusions: this study builds on the previous work exploring the broad issue of social consequences of drug use and offers clients’ perspective on this topic.
Cite as: Klimas, J. (2012) Interpersonal relationships during drug use and treatment from the perspective of clients in a therapeutic community. [Interpersonálne vzťahy v priebehu užívania drog a liečby závislosti z pohľadu klientov/iek v terapeutickej komunite.]. Adiktologie (12)1, 36-45
More at: www.adiktologie.cz
|Figure 1. Evolution of relationships during drug use, addiction and treatment