Kimberly Alexander, MBA, LPC, CPCS
Chief Clinical Officer
The original 3x3x3 Rubik’s cube has 43 quintillion (43,252,003,274,489,856,000) possible combinations. This number is so big that it’s difficult for most of us to even comprehend it in a concrete way. But despite the massive number of possible starting points, the approach to solving a Rubik’s cube is the same every single time.
The solution lies in algorithms or sequences of moves. The key to solving a cube quickly is committing the algorithms to memory and learning to recognize patterns that require specific algorithms.
Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is like solving a Rubik’s cube.
Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is like solving a Rubik’s cube. That may sound cryptic or over-simplified, but the parallels remain true.
Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive, substance-seeking behaviors without regard for the devastating consequences that follow.1 The consequences of addiction often include legal repercussions, financial devastation, physical maladies, and the loss of meaningful relationships. Each case of addiction is as unique as the individual who is suffering, but there will always be common symptoms, behaviors, and consequences when we look for them.
In the case of a Rubik’s cube, there are numerous algorithms that can be used to solve it, but the actual process is always completed by focusing on each layer, one at a time. The same steps–done in sequence–will solve it every time. And the algorithm works regardless of whoever may be responsible for scrambling the cube.
The first layer is done intuitively. This means following practical steps and committing to the process, knowing it will require doing some hard work on your own. The second and third layers require repetition until the cube is solved. If you don’t keep going, the cube won’t get solved.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
The same is true in recovery. Regardless of when or why addiction has developed and progressed, there are core principles of treatment that can successfully address the core issues if the person is open and committed to recovery.
The parallel between the algorithms of solving the Rubik’s cube and the steps towards recovery from addiction is in the process. Think of this process as the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Each step, when worked carefully and seriously, can lead to lifelong recovery. The 12 Steps are meant to develop behaviors that allow the individual suffering from addiction to gain insight and support to maintain sobriety in any circumstance.
Principles of Effective Treatment
Addiction is absolutely a treatable disease. Much like recognizing which algorithm is needed for a specific scramble of a Rubik’s Cube, addiction treatment must be individualized. So while no one treatment is right for everyone, several studies indicate that long-term treatment are more successful in terms of both lower relapse rates and longer length of sobriety.2
Because addiction affects both the brain and behavior, effective treatment should address both. Effective treatment addresses all of your needs, not just your substance use.3 These needs include addressing medical concerns and also co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, or past trauma.
When seeking treatment, you should look for treatment programs with both a history of success and core character-based qualities, such as integrity and spirituality. A program with proven success will include:
- Individual and group counseling
- Clinically trained staff members (which should include a board-certified psychiatrist or addictionologist), licensed behavioral health clinicians, and medical and non-medical staff including NPs, RNs, and assistants
- Comprehensive clinical programming that contains psychoeducation and treatment strategies for both addiction and non-addiction related client concerns
- A treatment component for family members
- Strong partnerships in the community to ensure quality referrals for clients when it is clinically necessary
With clinical treatment and the support of a community, recovery is not only possible, it is probable and sustainable. Recovery can lead to a rewarding and fulfilling life of choices that cultivate joy, peace, and healthy relationships, built on a foundation of perpetual hope. Effective programs support successful recovery and give those who are battling addiction the skills and experience necessary to maintain recovery into a future of uncertainty.
Developing sustainable recovery skills is like memorizing the algorithms for solving a Rubik’s cube. With practice, you will learn to discern the circumstances that call for each of your tools.
Algorithms: Your Tools for Maintaining Recovery
- Stay connected to a recovery network
- Although many AA and NA meetings have stopped meeting in person in the midst of COVID-19, most have begun using online platforms. Now is the ideal time to connect to a larger network of supporters than normally possible.
- Initiate conversations with a sponsor for support and accountability.
- Take time to read books or articles, or listen to videos or podcasts that are recovery-focused. Our Stories of Recovery Podcast could be a good place to start (https://www.marrinc.org/category/podcasts/).
- Avoid isolation and idle time
- In a time where many things are far from “normal,” it is especially important to find ways to avoid isolation.
- Call, video chat, or plan a safe way to commune with friends and loved ones.
- Create an agenda for your day that includes activities that will help you be and feel productive. Finish home projects you haven’t completed. Instead of binge-watching television or mindlessly surfing the internet, try productive activities like reading self-help books.
- Make self-care a priority. Find healthy ways to manage stress.
- Get moving! Exercise. Go for a walk/run. Garden or fish. Make healthy eating choices and get the rest you need.
- Meditation and spirituality practices can reduce the anxiety about the uncertainty of everything around you.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you relapse. Seek help.
- Relapse does not have to be the end of the story. Don’t beat yourself up. You can still make healthy choices, but it may be too challenging to do alone. A global pandemic is a rare opportunity to take the time you need to tend to the problem before it wreaks more havoc in your life.
- If you are currently struggling with excessive drug or alcohol use, call our Clinical Assessment Team at 678-805-5131. We can help you get back on the road to lifelong recovery.
The goal of treatment is recovery. Recovery begins with sobriety and evolves into a high-quality of life that restores identity, dignity, and peace. It is an ongoing process of growth, accountability, learning, and adjusting. With effective treatment and a recovery network, you can continue to learn the algorithms that work for you. Once you commit to the process, you will begin to see that the solutions really can work and that a life of recovery is possible.
- NIDA. 2020, July 10. Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery on 2020, August 16
- Greenfield L, Burgdorf K, Chen X, Porowski A, Roberts T, Herrell J. Effectiveness of long-term residential substance abuse treatment for women: findings from three national studies. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2004;30(3):537-550. doi:10.1081/ADA-200032290
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). [Website]. Retrieved at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose