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Responding to Doubters in Recovery

Taking the life-saving step to enter treatment for substance use disorder is one of the bravest and most impactful things a person can do. While friends and loved ones are almost always on board with a patient’s recovery, certain people can come around and sully the enthusiastic spirit of support. Learning how to tactfully handle doubters and those who express judgment is an important defense mechanism during all stages of recovery and can significantly help reduce triggers and the risk of relapse.

Many different types of people could be considered recovery “pessimists,” and their intentions vary. However, they can be simplified into several different groups that are most commonly encountered.

  • Active users in denial: Those who have yet to come to grips with their own problems with substance misuse will often have much to say about someone who is tackling their addiction head-on. Some of these negative sentiments may stem from resentment or jealousy due to their own unwillingness to seek treatment, but the “crabs in a bucket” theory also comes into play. These cynics can be particularly burdensome for those in recovery, especially because both parties know what the depths of untreated substance use disorder entail, except the person who has put in tons of work to reach the other side has gained more perspective.


  • Chronic relapse sufferer: Those who experience relapse often and return to use for extended periods between attempts at recovery can harbor feelings of what is best described as a “sour grapes” mentality. Unlike active users who express doubt, this type of doubter may not always come from a malicious place with their comments. Chronic relapse is part of the recovery process for some, and while the pattern is acknowledged, they may still feel deeply discouraged and hopeless when their peers seem to be succeeding with their sobriety.


  • Out-of-touch skeptics: Some people simply refuse to accept the advancements that addiction science has made over the past three decades. They view those with substance use disorder as irredeemably flawed individuals who can’t be helped. To them, addiction is a choice, or a character flaw, ignoring the effectiveness of methods such as medication-assisted treatment. Despite the mountains of evidence, research, and peer-reviewed studies, they may feel the need to share their unacquainted opinions on the matter of addiction with those in recovery, sometimes bringing the method of treatment into needless scrutiny. Though it’s always tempting to educate these doubters, it’s rarely worth the energy and effort.


  • Old-school methodologists: Before addiction was considered a chronic disease, people sought methods for conditions like opioid use disorder that weren’t effective for many of those affected. Addiction alters the reward pathway of the brain, causing chronic misuse to negatively impact users’ decision-making and judgment, as well as the intense withdrawal symptoms that make quitting very difficult. Many refer to abstinence methods as “white-knuckling” through the mental and physical anguish of ceasing chronic opioid use, which doesn’t work for many, especially long-term. Sadly, some people who adhere to abstinence methods will besmirch those who choose to seek out medication-assisted treatment, denying that they’re genuinely in recovery. These attitudes can be very harmful to the recovery community.


In part two of this discussion, responses to these types of doubters will be covered to help those in recovery prepare themselves for awkward confrontations and conversations.


BAART understands the importance of providing evidence-based addiction treatment for those with opioid use disorder. Medical providers and nursing staff at outpatient BAART facilities are specialized in helping patients overcome substance use disorder using comprehensive methods that include medication-assisted treatment and substance use counseling. Call or message a local clinic today to learn more about the recovery programs available with BAART.

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