Substance Abuse Counselors Change View on Abstinence

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According to a study recently published by the American Psychological Association, about 50 percent of substance abuse counselors believe that it’s acceptable for some alcohol abusers* to have an occasional drink as an intermediate or final treatment goal. When it comes to drug abusers, about half of counselors accept moderate drug use as an intermediate treatment goal, while only one-third of counselors accept it as a final goal.

*It should be noted that this survey question referred to “alcohol abusers” not “alcohol dependent individuals (fully addicted).

The study involved a survey of 913 counselors who are members of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Counselors (NAADAC). When the same survey was conducted 20 years ago, only 25 percent of counselors accepted occasional drinking by alcohol abusers. The number of counselors who accept moderate drug use has stayed nearly the same over the past decades.

According to study co-authors Harold Rosenberg ad Alan Davis of Bowling Green University, the survey results may help individuals with drug and alcohol problems who don’t want to seek treatment due to their negative feelings about abstinence. Depending on the substance they abuse, the seriousness of their problem and the outcome of their treatment, their counselor may find it acceptable for them to return to moderate consumption.

It should be noted that the counselors who participated in the survey only thought moderate substance use was acceptable for individuals who have been diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse. For individuals who are dependent on alcohol or drugs, counselors have quite a different opinion. More than three-quarters disapprove of any kind of consumption by individuals who have a substance dependency problem.

The counselors who were surveyed were also questioned about the circumstances when they would approve of moderate substance use. There was general agreement that a patient’s age, general health, emotional stability and substance of abuse would be factored into their decision.

Counselors who did not approve of anything but abstinence for patients with substance abuse problems said they thought that approving substance use would send the wrong message and was inconsistent with their treatment philosophy. Davis and Rosenberg note that counselors who are not members of NAADAC may not have the same views about moderate substance use by patients. About 75,000 addiction counselors and other addiction professionals are currently members of NAADAC.