Abstinence and the 12 steps; the foundations for a much better life

The reasons for the high attrition rates of people attempting to recover should be mostly attributed to the deceptive and insidious nature of alcoholism and addiction.

However, the clinical approach used by most alcohol and drug treatment centres focuses on minimising the risks associated with detoxification and encouraging abstinence. Unless a person attends a long term rehabilitation program – and there are very few available in NSW – there is little time available for intensive work on the causes and conditions of a person’s alcoholism and or drug use.

In February 2021 the doors to The Sydney Retreat will be open. The Sydney Retreat is a program based entirely on the highly successful 12 Step facilitated recovery program run by The Retreat in Minneapolis USA. The Retreat in Minneapolis has been operational for 20 years and its success rate far exceeds that of any other public or private alcohol and drug rehabilitation program anywhere in the world.

After attending The Retreat’s 30 day program, 59% of people are still sober after 12 months compared to the low recovery rates (generally considered to be below 10 %) attributed to other rehabilitation centres that apply other types of treatments.

According to John Malone, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Sydney Retreat, the difference between the model applied by The Sydney Retreat and other rehabilitation centres is the amount of contact that residents will have with sober members of the recovery community.

They (guests at The Sydney Retreat) will be interacting with people who know what it’s like to move from a life of alcoholism and addiction to a life of recovery,” he said.

We will have a core staff who are there to look after the needs of our guests but we will also have people from the recovery community – people who have strong long-term recovery and they will be supporting our guests and that’s how it works so effectively at The Retreat in Minneapolis.

Before anything can change in the life of an alcoholic, they need to abstain totally from alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. Once they have achieved abstinence, the alcoholic or addict can develop the stability and cognition to start applying the 12 Steps and begin their journey to recovery. Guests at The Sydney Retreat will have detoxed prior to their admission and they will already be abstinent even if it is just for a brief amount of time.

But the path to recovery is elusive. If it was as simple as an alcoholic realising they need to stop drinking, getting the help that they require and then remaining sober on the strength of some counselling or group sessions at a drug and alcohol treatment centre, then the relapse rate wouldn’t be so high.

According to Dr Stephen Jurd, director of the Sydney Retreat, the success of the Sydney Retreat model is in the application of the 12 Steps of recovery, and exposure to the recovery community.

The 12 Steps are so successful because they focus on a new way of life. When the drinker changes their attitudes and changes their behaviour the staying sober part, which always seemed so elusive, all of a sudden becomes possible.

Denial and delusion –  persuasive opponents to the principles of recovery

Denial to an alcoholic is to believe that they don’t have a problem. To consume the substance that is largely responsible for their problems in the belief that it might be their saviour is something else again. Yet that is what the alcoholic does – in many cases they do it day in and day out to the exclusion of everything else in their lives.

As baffling as it may be to observers, people with a drinking or drug problem often believe that their health and other personal problems have little or nothing to do with their drinking or drug use. In some cases their denial may be so powerful that they believe that without alcohol or drugs to ‘lean on’, their problems will overwhelm them and become insurmountable.

Once a drinker’s thought processes begin to contradict reality and rational argument they are entering the realm of delusion. This type of delusional thinking coupled with a physical reaction that compels the alcoholic to continue drinking into intoxication and beyond, are the characteristics that set the alcoholic apart from other drinkers.

Most people who behave poorly when they drink have the capacity to ‘reflect and correct’  but not so the alcoholic. An alcoholic can accumulate a litany of incidents and accidents and offences and blame everything and everybody but themselves for the outcome. Or perhaps they do recognise that their drinking or drug use is to blame but when it comes to deciding whether to take a drink or a drug some time later, the likely consequences don’t come to mind and the destructive cycle continues.

If you question an alcoholic on the reasons why they took a drink knowing that they couldn’t guarantee either their safety or behaviour, the question usually draws an unconvincing response. They offer implausible justifications for taking a drink when the evidence for not taking a drink to any rational person is indisputable.

And it’s not that an alcoholic does not experience remorse once they sober up. Given the extent that they will go to suppress their feelings and avoid responsibility, it may be that they have a heightened sense of both remorse and guilt. It is often at this juncture that an alcoholic may tire of the pretence and consider a different way. Sober alcoholics in recovery will often talk about their moments of clarity: When the truth of their lives is suddenly and starkly revealed and they can clearly see the dire consequences associated with a continuance of their drinking and drug taking.

Partners, family members and friends are usually the first to know

The alcoholic has little control over when they start to drink and once they have started to drink they are often incapable of stopping. And the obsession to drink will strike at the most inappropriate times. An alcoholic will often choose to drink when prudent, measured behaviour is required. When this happens it can appear to partners, family members and friends to be a deliberate attempt at sabotage.

To the families and friends of alcoholics the solution to the alcoholic’s problems and their own disillusion is obvious; they need to stop drinking and taking drugs and their lives will begin to improve. To them it’s not only logical but necessary. Afterall, the alcoholic’s behaviour affects anybody who is close to them and loves them – in the middle of a spree it could be anyone within their vicinity.

According to Dr Stephen Jurd, it is common to see people who seek help for their drinking because of complaints from their partners.

Complaints about a partner’s drinking is an indication that a relationship has been affected,” said Dr Jurd. “If you drink and you have problems you should alter your drinking pattern, but if you can’t do that then clearly you have a problem,” he added.

Some will take heed of the warning from their partners and have a genuine attempt at staying sober. There is probably a good deal of sincerity and good intention in their attempts to limit or stop their drinking. But if they avoid the issues associated with their excessive drinking they generally start again sometime later in the belief that because enough time has passed they will be able to exercise some control over their consumption. What usually happens is that the drinker picks up where they left off and the same old behaviours continue. As time goes on, the situation gets worse because the behaviours escalate.

A lot of people will have been able to stop drinking for various reasons at different times in their lives,” said Dr Jurd. “For those people, the problem has not been stopping, it has been staying stopped. 

The Sydney Retreat offers a program with a proven record of success

The role of alcohol and substance abuse treatment centres and residential rehabilitation services has long been to assist and promote abstinence combined with some elementary understanding into the causes of a person’s drinking or drug problem.

The Sydney Retreat is a drug and alcohol residential treatment program that takes a completely different approach. Through intense education into the causes and conditions of a person’s drinking; regular contact with the recovery community and the application of the 12 Steps and their spiritual principles, a person who has always found sobriety so difficult to achieve will naturally develop a sober way of life.

But you shouldn’t just take our word for it: Cochrane, an unaffiliated, international network of researchers that perform systematic reviews of medical evidence to improve health outcomes and healthcare practices around the world, say that twelve step facilitated recovery achieves far better results than other forms of treatment.

According to a Cochrane review into Twelve Step facilitated recovery,  participation (in a twelve step facilitated recovery program) leads to higher rates of continuous abstinence over months and years compared to other treatments including cognitive behaviour therapy.

The reason for this according to Dr Stephen Jurd, is the focus that The Sydney Retreat has on interaction with people who have and the use of the steps to fundamentally change the way an alcoholic behaves and views their responsibility to those about them.

The Sydney Retreat is an initiation into recovery. It is an education into the 12 Step way of life. Our ambition will be that people will have completed the first eight steps of the 12 Step program by the time they graduate.

Contact The Sydney Retreat now and we would be happy to give you a tour of our facilities and answer any questions.

An alcoholic will see the problems in their primary and closest relationships a long time before  they start to experience a decline in their health or even damage to their reputation or professional life.

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