The wellbeing of people who suffer from a substance use disorder is compromised in many ways. Their physical health is affected by the chaotic lifestyle that often accompanies it – this commonly includes poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and irregular sleeping patterns. There are also the secondary complications linked to substance use, such as high blood pressure, cancer and liver disease, in addition to injuries that can be sustained from reckless behaviour.
Mental health is severely affected too, and there is an abundance of research evidencing the link between addiction, anxiety, depression, and suicide. Cognitive function is impaired through having a maladaptive reward system, where value is placed on securing access to drink and drugs, irrespective of the consequences. Beyond this, the fallout – such as broken relationships, loss of earnings, and even loss of freedom – all significantly impair wellbeing.
Wellbeing is defined as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. What can be assumed is that in reaching recovery, an individual has implemented a series of important changes that move them beyond reliance on drink and drugs – these changes, while often challenging, inherently improve wellbeing by abating the enduring consequences of active addiction.
In the longer term, wellbeing continues to improve as an individual finds new meaning and purpose, develops healthier ways of behaving, and establishes positive relationships that are conducive to recovery. From this it’s reasonable to conclude that improvements can be experienced from the point an individual decides to change.
Addiction treatment services can leverage this to make the transition from addiction to recovery a more optimistic experience – one where positive engagement can help motivate an individual to apply themselves in the process of change and growth. It also gives insight into what a life beyond addiction can offer.
There are many ways in which services can promote and improve wellbeing, ranging from innovative therapeutic interventions to providing a varied and enriched treatment schedule where time is dedicated to wellbeing activities that accommodate individual capabilities and preferences. There are boundless examples of activities that this can include – playing sport, visiting an animal sanctuary, painting or meditation, to name a few.
Furthermore, fun and light-hearted activities can help connect an individual to a less troubled version of themselves, where they are able to appreciate the benefits of being in the moment. Offering a range of different wellbeing opportunities means service users not only have choice but also the opportunity to branch out and positively experience things in ways that are new to them.
Beyond this there are also the intrinsic values of an organisation and the people within it. If an organisation values the wellbeing of its staff, and proactively seeks to improve and uphold it, then service users are more likely to experience a holistic wellbeing experience. A healthy staff group is better positioned to conduct themselves in a way that cultivates wellbeing.
As an example, speaking to someone who recently completed treatment having arrived with no more than the clothes they were wearing, they recalled a member of staff kindly bringing in a spare pair of trainers on their first day. While this might seem relatively inconsequential when viewed against the overall treatment received, it was transformational for the individual, as they saw the potential in a caring and positive relationship.
When reflecting back on this moment, they identified it as instrumental in opening their mind to connecting with others and accepting support. Moments such as these demonstrate that even a small change in wellbeing can have a positive effect on treatment outcome.
At Acorn Recovery Projects a unique programme of work known as positive addiction recovery therapy is offered to service users. This is designed to strengthen recovery, improve wellbeing, and set the foundation for people to flourish in recovery. The programme uses the G-CHIME model of addiction recovery, and delivers interventions based on personal growth, connectedness, hope, identity, meaning in life and empowerment. Those who have completed the programme have reported a notable improvement in all listed wellbeing domains, as well as an increase in their recovery capital.
Staff at Acorn receive specific training to enrich the treatment experience of their service users, for example therapists have recently been trained to deliver drum therapy, adding to the catalogue of experiential interventions and therapies that are already delivered. Beyond this staff are encouraged to take time out of their working day to organise and participate in wellbeing activities that they enjoy and that will benefit service users, for example, hill walking, playing with pets, gardening projects, jam sessions, baking, dancing, and playing games.
Lisa Ogilvie is a counsellor at Acorn Recovery Projects, and a doctoral student at the University of Bolton specialising in addiction recovery and wellbeing.