Addiction is a chronic, progressive, self-perpetuating disease that profoundly diminishes individual, family and community well-being. Drug abuse costs the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars in increased healthcare costs, crime and lost productivity. Addiction does respond to treatment, but our medical-model approach is merely effective at creating abstinence. Relapse rates during and soon after treatment remain stubbornly high.

Interrupting addiction does not build “recovery.”In fact, abstinence is only a small part of recovery. When we’re successful in treating addicts, it’s because we’re helping them to feel better, have deeper, more nurturing relationships with others, and to be there for themselves.

That’s what the positive recovery construct is all about. Lasting recovery demands a rich and full lifestyle that makes abstinence sustainable. By applying evidence-based strategies borrowed from positive psychology, such as keeping track of one’s blessings each day, we can help recovering addicts find that meaning, that joy, on which to rebuild their lives. We’re not talking about positive thinking. That’s not enough. What we do, more than anything else, is what alters the brain. Habit reinforces pathways of behaving because it makes subsequent repetition easier. Breaking free from addiction requires intention, concentration, courage, and action.

Addicts can expect that the application of hope-enhancing strategies in their lives will help prevent relapse and help them flourish. There is much more waiting out there than just the removal of the pain of active addiction. And the truth is, these positive interventions, these actions, will enhance the life of the non-addict too. It’s a win-win. Improving outcomes will make us better in every way: happier patients and families, happier employees, happier business owners. 

Addicts are an especially vulnerable population that needs specific interventions aimed at increasing their meaning and purpose. In the posts that follow, I’ll walk you through these new validated tools, which are not related to removing misery but instead skills and exercises that build positivity, character, meaning and relationships.

Dr. Jason Z.W. Powers is chief medical director of Right Step in Houston and Promises Austin, a network of inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment centers in Texas, and author of “When the Servant Becomes the Master.” A recovering addict, Dr. Powers speaks with knowledge that springs from personal experience. 

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