Written by Dr. Kevin McCauley
At a time when drug overdose deaths have replaced deaths from motor vehicle accidents for young people, we felt that there was little media available to people suffering from substance use disorders or their families that offered concrete recommendations of how to get into and stay in recovery. We wanted to change that. For several decades, the high rates of success seen in formal professional monitoring programs for high-risk occupations (physicians, nurses, commercial airline pilots) have been well known in the world of addiction treatment, but not known by the general public. In our film, “Memo to Self“, we wanted to describe what such programs require of their participants.
It is common for people in early recovery to start out with good intentions and sincere effort, but then lose motivation with time and fall back into old patterns of behavior.
Knowing what works in recovery and actually doing it, however, are two different things. It is common for people in early recovery to start out with good intentions and sincere effort, but then lose motivation with time and fall back into old patterns of behavior. Besides craving and persistent use of drugs/alcohol despite negative consequences, a key feature of addiction is impaired decision-making complicated by a loss of insight on the part of the addicted person into that impairment. Professional monitoring programs offset this disability with multiple levels of protection and scrutiny.
As a former flight surgeon, and as a person in early and fragile recovery myself, I knew that I would not be able to consistently count on my own thinking to stay sober. The insight of seeing recovery not as a fight with myself between good and bad, but as a safety problem much like the challenge of preventing aviation mishaps is, I believe, the key reason professional health programs are successful. One of the models used to prevent mishaps is called the Swiss Cheese Model, which basically states that imperfect safety measures can be strengthened by having multiple layers (slices of swiss cheese) to offset defects in the other layers. The same could be said for recovery: the more I check in with a therapist or recovery coach, undergo regular and frequent drug testing, establish a peer group that supports my sobriety, and find a safe and sober place to live, the greater my ability to prevent a “mishap” (relapse). And to keep myself doing these things over time, many of the statements I heard from people who had been successful in their sobriety could be used as “memos” to my future self. Each of these seemingly-offhand statements are, in fact, the key principles of Recovery Management – actions that I could integrate into my life in the times that I was strong and motivated for sobriety that would protect me in times when my motivation and insight began to fail.
To our knowledge, this is the only film that explores this well-established solution to the problem of addiction.
Dr. Kevin McCauley will be a keynote speaker at the 4th Annual Univeristy of North Texas Recovery Conference. He will present his latest findings on the neuroscience of addiction.