‘Madam, if you say Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a disease, can’t you give me a pill to take away all these cravings and make me better so that I can be cured from it?’
Many people I have encountered in my practice in Ghana have asked this question.
This is a very genuine question because if there is medication for treating and curing other diseases, why can we not provide same for those suffering from SUDs.
In other countries like the United States, Europe and some African countries, there are pills for treating Substance Use Disorders. These pills are given to reduce or stop cravings so that patients can go to work and perform their daily functions. This is referred to as Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT). They are mostly combined with Psychotherapy (counselling) for better treatment outcomes.
This therapy is mostly used for Opioid, Alcohol and Nicotine use disorder. However, medication is available for Cocaine Use disorders as well in some places.
In Ghana, we do not have these medications for treatment (except for alcohol and Nicotine in some health facilities). However, most treatment facilities do have psychotherapy available for clients to help manage cravings and live normal lives as well.
The difference here though is that, some clients find having to go through therapy without medication a very daunting task, especially at facilities that do not provide access to detoxification.
The point which must be emphasized here is that, medication does not guarantee that a client will not relapse; SUD is a very complicated disease which is surely going to be properly managed if the client is not able to follow coping skills that will help him/her work out his own recovery. Medication without, ‘working out’ one’s own recovery almost certainly leads to relapse.
So, what can you do to work out your own recovery in the absence of pills and do for yourself what the pill could have done for you?
1. Find a good Treatment Program
The first step to becoming the pill is to pick out a treatment program that can get you started in the right direction. This should be a program with highly trained staff who can help you understand the disease you are suffering from. What a pill does is to treat a particular disease for which it was made. Knowing your disease, how it came about, what is happening in your brain and body will make you aware of what to do and what not to do so as to have the best treatment outcomes. This will also help you understand some of the reasons why certain rules that are put in place at the treatment program are necessary.
Contact me for a list of good programs available in Ghana if you need one.
2. Commit to the Treatment Program
The pill does a job. To become the pill, you have a job to do. You have to be consistent in meeting with your counsellor, speaking truthfully about your drug use history, which will allow for a proper assessment to be done so as to help write up a good treatment plan for you.
Then the next job is to follow the treatment plan to the letter; nothing should be ignored or seen as irrelevant. The counselor cannot do for you what you are told to do. Doing it yourself is how you work it out; look at it as ‘swallowing the bitter pill’, that is how you get results.
3. See the Rules of Recovery as a New Way of Life
Some of the rules you will hear in treatment are; avoid triggers (people, places and things that may directly or indirectly lead to using drugs again), practice coping skills to deal with cravings and other unhealthy emotions, share your experiences, learn from others in recovery.
These so-called rules are not just noise, they actually work and should be practiced all the days of your life if you want to remain abstinent. Take charge of your life and improve your general wellbeing.
4. Join a Community of People in Recovery
One of the usefulness of the pill is to help maintain retention in treatment. The aim of the recovery community is to find support and growth from a group of people going through the same disease. This community of people will not only serve as your support in treatment but also throughout your whole journey of recovery.
5. Read, Read, Read
This is very important! Your counsellor will definitely not know everything there is to know about Substance Use Disorders. New information is coming out everyday that you can learn about. New ways of coping with cravings are coming up every day. Read books, articles like this one, journals and research on SUDs. Knowledge is not just power; it is incredible power. Look for it, empower yourself, improve your life.
Do you not go looking for relationship tips in books and online to improve your love life? Do the same for all other aspects of your life!