It's fairly easy to develop an addiction; to leave it behind, however, can sometimes seem close to impossible. The amounts of books about addiction and its consequences that are available on the market reflect the relevance of this problem; drug use affects individuals, families, communities, and nations profoundly, and consequently most societies put a lot of effort into trying to treat and prevent its development. The results, however, are oftentimes considered far from satisfactory.
Tackling Addiction sets out to examine the, in the field of addiction, recurrent term 'recovery', here defined as "a process through which an individual voluntarily moves on from problem drug use towards a drug-free life". The book is divided into twelve chapters, each of which discusses recovery from different viewpoints. The contributors all work in addictions research or in therapeutic communities, and some are service users in recovery. All of these voices show commitment to their work as well as enthusiasm and hope for the future, which is invigorating; it is not, unfortunately, uncommon that books about addiction are both disheartened and disheartening. Patients with drug problems seeking treatment are not always met with neither compassion nor sincere belief that they have good chances of recovering from their deeply problematic condition. Thus, the attention given to successful recovery in Tackling Addiction is both welcome and needed.
The book is intended to "inform ongoing discussion and debate about the way forward for policy and practice in this area". It discusses addiction from private to political perspectives, and case examples abound. Experiences from different therapeutic communities (mostly in the UK) are brought to the fore, as well as reflections on the role of recovery groups. Founders of different kinds of recovery projects are interviewed in the chapter called "Voices of Recovery", and the role of substitute prescribing is also commented upon by several of the contributors. There is a chapter devoted to gendered differences in the recovery process, more specifically to women in recovery. As is often the case when different chapters are written by different people, the contents get a bit straggly; however, most of the time the common thread running through Tackling Addiction is visible.
Throughout the book emphasis is placed on the importance of a holistic approach to recovery, which includes shifting from pathology towards health, strength and empowerment, as well as the importance of redefining oneself in the process. It also examines the role of professionals in helping people to recover. Conventional treatments are criticized due to the focus on the clinical and medical management of addiction, which seeks to address mortality and criminality rather than recovery. According to the authors Gilman and Yates (chapter six), however, it is not good enough to have a treatment system with the aim to only "keep the person with a substance use disorder alive and out of prison". Recovery-oriented integrated systems of care, on the other hand, "will ensure that commissioned professional treatment assists this process and the professionals remember that their place is to be 'on tap' not 'on top'".
Tackling Addiction is a great addition to the ongoing debate on how to best help and meet the needs of people with drug addiction. It's not essential reading, but it spurs thoughts on the relationship between society and a tragic, individual problem which in many ways isn't individual at all, but a problem that affects everyone, addict or not, professional or not, within or without treatment.
© 2011 Minna Forsell
Minna Forsell is a psychologist, graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works in a psychiatric health care center in Volda, Western Norway.