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Moving on from Addiction

December 01 2023

Taking inspiration from Portugal, how can people with addiction issues be supported through the experience and, ultimately, move on. By Viki Fox

They say that connection is the opposite of addiction, with some, such as Johann Hari going so far as to conclude that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection.  In a popular TedTalk from 2015, Johann speaks about the significant positive outcomes seen in Portugal, after taking a public health approach to addiction. They did this by diverting money previously spent on the criminalisation of drugs and re-purposing this to promote social connection and meaning to those in addiction – through job opportunities and similar initiatives.

Of course, we are complex beings and each one of us who has suffered from addiction has our own unique story, and every one of us in recovery has managed this in our own unique way. I was lucky in that I managed to maintain some elements of social capital throughout my addiction – largely through my close-knit family connections and having had opportunities in my earlier life that many are not so fortunate to have. I often reflect on this, and where I would be now had I not had all of this to fall back on in early recovery. 

I work for a charity in Scotland called Cyrenians, and part of my role is managing residential rehabilitation accommodation in partnership with the NHS, which provides a 12-week abstinence-based programme. Through this work I have seen first-hand the importance of connection. A common misconception is that a stay in residential rehab is all that is necessary to combat addiction. It is certainly the first, and in many cases, a life-saving step, but the hard work continues after leaving. Because of this, the NHS service offers two years of aftercare, with a strong focus on cementing relationships within the fellowships, such as AA, NA and CA (Cocaine Anonymous).   

Edinburgh has a large recovery community, and linking in to this is paramount, particularly in the early stages of recovery. Recovery-specific projects such as Edinburgh Recovery Activities provide companionship with like-minded individuals, offering support and meaningful activity. Also important are non-recovery specific, community-based initiatives, volunteering and work opportunities for those in recovery, which can be accessed without fear or shame of one’s past. For long-term sustainable recovery, it is crucial that these social opportunities exist for people to connect with others.