Most Americans don’t have to look far to see the lives that have been damaged and the families that have been shattered by addiction.
Such stories have dominated recent headlines as the country struggles through the opioid crisis. According to a 2016 report issued by the U.S. surgeon general, one in seven Americans will face substance addiction in their lifetime, and this is just one form of addiction.
In her latest book, Treating Addictions: The Four Components, UNLV social work professor An-Pyng Sun offers a comprehensive strategy to uncover the unique personal and social circumstances that perpetuate an individual’s addictive behavior and details potential paths toward recovery. The book reflects Sun’s extensive interactions with clients, discussions with colleagues, and 30-plus years of in-depth research since joining the addiction treatment field in the late 1980s.
“I’ve shared what I’ve learned over the years so that it can help students, clinicians, patients, family members, and society in general pay attention to all the components that contribute to addiction and its treatment,” she said. “All the components are relevant and constitute a framework that can provide perspective and give outsiders an idea of what addiction is like.”
Since Sun’s time as a counselor and social worker in an alcohol treatment center in New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the field of addiction treatment has undergone many changes, placing less of a focus on confronting patients and more emphasis on acknowledging their life experiences when establishing a path to recovery. Sun’s book embraces these lessons and considers four components, referred to in the title of her book, when approaching addiction treatment: addiction fundamentals, co-occurring disorders, quality of life, and social factors.
Although addiction involves a network of mental and physical components, including fundamental predispositions based on genetics, it can be further complicated by co-occurring disorders such as chronic pain, schizophrenia, or depression, Sun said. Addiction also is often linked to poverty, trauma, and other lifestyle or social factors. And after an addiction has developed, the absence of structural support like affordable housing and rehabilitation programs can delay an individual’s recovery.
Sun’s book, compiled over a period of roughly two years, explores all these issues in a tailored, easy-to-understand format that walks readers through the roots of addiction and treatment rather than forcing them to cobble together those roots from semi-related chapters — a common quibble with books on the subject.
Given the complexity she outlines with respect to addiction, Sun emphasizes the need for humane treatment of individuals struggling with addiction in order to combat the agony and low self-esteem many of them experience. Several who struggle with addiction feel stuck, she said, unable to exist fully in a state of sobriety or in the realm of their addiction.
“It’s important to understand the suffering and pain deep inside those struggling with addiction because many of them create façades to cover up those emotions,” she said.
Sun’s treatment method stresses compassion as the core element, regardless of the addiction, and includes recommendations for emotional support and an informed way to cope with withdrawals or relapses.
“Society can be very judgmental about addiction,” she said. “It tends to be more lenient in terms of other chronic diseases, even though addiction is a chronic disease. Addiction is treatable, but people have to be vigilant, and the recovery process is lifelong. There is no cure.”