I spent five years in the nineties as part of research teams studying how to improve drug and alcohol treatment. My job was to manage and clean the data, and to do statistical analysis
In my first job after university, I worked on a team that examined “proximal outcomes” for recovery, both for twelve step programs and cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea was, each modality of treatment program suggests various activities for people to do if they want to get sober – but which of these many activities are actually most effective in helping people to stay clean?
What we found is that interpersonal connections (having a sponsor, going to meetings, going to therapy appointments, and attending therapy group) correlated with recovery more strongly than other activities (working the twelve steps, reading the Big Book, doing therapy homework assignments, or reading psychology books). The main thing that seemed to get people off of their addictions and living a more healthy life was sharing themselves honestly with other people who provided an open heart and an accepting ear.
I think that most people reading this know that honest and loving social connection is a central necessity for our mental health.
A few years later, I was part of a research team that the contrasting efficacy of two different six-month treatment programs. The programs were pretty much the same in content, except that one was inpatient/residential, and the other was day-treatment (people went home and slept in their own beds). We were trying to see if expensive treatment programs could possibly save some costs by skipping all the high costs of overnight stays.
What we found is that people in both programs had pretty much the same sobriety rate after two years.
People in the day-treatment program had more relapses during the six months that the program was in effect. This is because they were being exposed to temptation every day, when they went home after treatment activities, and they bumped into their dealers and using buddies, had to come up with rent money, or had stressful fights with their partners, roommates, or parents. If these day-treatment folks could stay sober until the day that they graduated from the program, however, they also had a good chance of being sober eighteen months later.
The inpatient treatment folks, in contrast, spent six months in a completely cocooned in a environment supporting their sobriety and recovery around the clock. Just about all of them who were able to stay in the program until the end were, of course, still sober then. These people had a huge drop off of sobriety rates right after the program ended, however – because they were suddenly exposed to temptation of the outside world all at once.
In light of this, I recommend a meditation practice called “trigger practice”. This involves keeping centered, open, and aware though meditative practice while intentionally putting in front of ourselves something that typically draws a strong and destructive emotional reaction out of us – a bottle of booze, a pack of cigarettes, or some porn if we are trying to quit one of those, a letter from an ex we are trying to get over, or something like that. The point of this exercise is to intentionally get over the pull that temptation has on us, so that it doesn’t hit us all at once when we are least ready for it.