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Does Love Have a Place in Professional Addiction Treatment?


"All you need is love." Is that true in addiction treatment?

Healthcare professionals can easily see the power of love in addiction recovery for patients with a strong support network. However, it is often the case that these same healthcare professionals fail to realize the impact of showing their own patients love and support during recovery. This article explores the power of showing genuine compassion and love to those struggling with addiction, even in professional care settings.

Addiction Treatment with a Little Heart

What role does compassion play in addiction treatment? In our increasingly digitized society, it is easy to expand on the distance that technology has created. Our quest for evidenced-based medicine would be hard-pressed to measure a compassion-centered metric or benchmark. Yet all addiction treatment professionals have seen the powerfully positive role that love and support have on the substance user’s recovery.

It is true that in the “regular” health care system, people with substance disorders are often looked down upon – sometimes by the very doctor that is treating them. There is still a substantial volume of judgment placed upon the head of a person that is headed to addiction treatment. Popular culture does not recognize the disservice it is heaping on patients with addiction disorders. Addiction is a disease, but while cancer patients may earn all the sympathy in the world, the intravenous drug user simply does not. 

The title of a Psychology Today article summed it up, “The Opposite of Addiction is Connection.” The author, Robert Weiss, suggests that addiction stems from the inability to connect with other people. He says, “In other words, addiction is not a substance disorder, it’s a social disorder.” 

Weiss cited a study by a Canadian psychiatrist who experimented on lab rats, offering heroin-infused water or regular water. He realized that the rats, who commonly went for the heroin water, were living in sterile cages with no social interaction. So the researcher built a small park in a huge caged area for the rats. The area had all kinds of stimulation and toys. Then he introduced regular water and heroin-laced water again. He found that the rats did not show any interest in the heroin water when their social needs were met in the bigger cage. 

It is an interesting idea, with the author surmising that the rat study could be extrapolated to human behavior and drug addiction. Rats need the same psychological comforts as people. When the rats had all of their psychological needs met, they did not crave the heroin-water.

Could providing compassionate care and social stimulation in a clinical setting ultimately positively affect addiction treatment?

Compassion and Addiction Treatment

Providing compassionate clinical care and loving support in a treatment setting could make an impact on patient outcomes. While no studies have proven conclusively that simply loving patients could make them better, addiction treatment professionals witness the positive effect of the love shared by the support network of a person with substance use disorder. While this is not understood fully, it seems that compassionate, loving care does aid patients, which is why providers should adopt methods that fully embrace respect and caring as part of any addiction treatment modality.

Are you a healthcare professional looking to partner with an accredited addiction treatment provider to find appropriate care for your patients? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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