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The concept of relapse prevention has been widely used in recent years in addiction treatment programs and has been the focus of considerable research. It is well understood that high-risk situations, a lack of coping skills, outcome expectancy, lifestyle factors, urges and cravings can all contribute to relapse.

by Richard Davila, Ph.D., Director of Recovery Services, Clean Recovery Centers

Addiction is a disease with biological, psychological, and social components; treatment and relapse prevention are designed to address each of these. But a strong case can now be made to add another component – education.

When relapse occurs, particularly in younger people, typically they have left rehab and gone back to their old life in familiar surroundings with old friends. Nothing has changed in their world. Many have not finished high school. Some had started college but then dropped out. Bottom line – the wreckage of their past gets in the way of their future.

Many of these individuals have been through rehab several times. They need, and often want, to do something different. Many appear to be looking for more intellectual stimulation. I have studied this extensively through my work in various areas of the recovery space.

In one study we conducted, in cooperation with therapists and caseworkers in an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center, a classroom was set up and an environment with specific ground rules was created. For example, no cell phones, cross talk, or sleeping was allowed. There were managed breaks. Clients were to be treated as students, and were required to act like committed students from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays for six weeks.

In addition, there was a face-to-face learning load of a full 48 hours as well as required homework assignments. These “students” and “teachers” were treated as learners and instructors. We applied adult learning principles to the work being taught, and the students were to earn a certificate upon completion of the course.

The course content was constructed to provide positive reinforcement of progress and was built to prepare a student to apply to a two-year college or vocational school, or to obtain a GED before moving forward. Special emphasis was placed on writing skills, critical thinking, goal setting and time management.

Finally, there was a full array of class interaction activities. Each student created achievable written goals for the class, with timelines for completion and weekly progress reports to peer groups and faculty.

It quickly became obvious that there was a strong sense of inadequacy and self-doubt among the students. This issue was addressed with weekly assessment of writing progress, and positive movement toward goals was constantly reinforced. Although the study population was small, the results were very encouraging. Of those who completed the 6-week program, almost all of them continue on to vocational school or college.

Throughout my career in the field of addiction, I have witnessed the largely positive impact of educational stimulus on recovery outcomes. For most, learning is an enjoyable process. The same holds true for people in early recovery and beyond. Not only does it appear to help the person recover, it appears to assist in prevention of relapse.

Today, strong recovery centers and programs have clients do work that requires intellectual stimulation to be completed on an ongoing basis. I urge those going through the recovery process to give this work their best effort and seek additional, positive intellectual stimulation whenever and wherever they can. My experience has shown that adding education and intellectual stimulation into the recovery process almost always improves the chances of a sustained recovery from drug/alcohol addiction.

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