Understanding Long-Term Recovery

If understanding addiction is crucial to recovery (and it is). Then understanding recovery is crucial to society as a whole. Especially understanding long-term recovery, which is too often neglected in the quest to understand addiction itself.

So says Keith Humphries anyway, and he should know. See Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor in psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University, as well as co-director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors. And he and his respective teams are all about understanding long-term recovery.

“Understanding long-term recovery is important for science and for society,” Humphreys said. “For science, unraveling the nature and treatment for medical disorders requires us to understand both the cause of disease, the course it takes, and the recovery. But in the addiction field, we have focused almost entirely on the first two. While many people understandably despair over the horrors of the opioid epidemic, the reality of recovery gives us hope that happy and healthy lives are possible for those currently suffering.”

To help address the need for a better understanding of long-term recovery, Humphreys and his VTCRI colleague Warren Bickel have taken to the pages of JAMA Psychiatry, a journal of the American Medical Association.

The article is entitled Toward a Neuroscience of Long-term Recovery from Addiction. And it begins by detailing why we need a neuroscience of long-term recovery in the first place. Not to mention the benefits said neuroscience might yield.

  • Aiding Clinicians in Planning and Providing Care for Patients with Substance Use Disorders
  • Telling Patients What to Expect
  • Informing Public Policy on Addiction
  • Enhancing Basic Knowledge About the Brain, Including How it Acquires Dysfunction and How it Heals

Bickel, who heads the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Addiction Recovery Research Center, points to the International Quit & Recovery Registry (IQRR) as an important research tool to advance understanding of long-term addiction recovery.

The IQRR, sponsored by VTCRI, has nearly 8,000 registrants from all 50 states, 40 countries, and five continents. Registrants’ recovery times, from a variety of addictions, range from less than a year up to more than 20 years. Eighty-three percent of IQRR’s participants identified two or more substances as their addictions of choice.

“This is the only registry of its type in the world, to my knowledge,” Bickel said. To respect privacy, registrants do not have to submit their names, just a valid email address, zip code, and information about their addiction.

“We’re learning about the circumstances leading to addiction,” he continued. “The choices leading to recovery, and the social and cultural environments for people working through addiction.”

Researchers have long known that addiction physically changes the brain, Bickel said. Ongoing research in the field however has started to probe how even the briefest abstinence can change the brain further. And while the contributions from these studies are significant. Both Bickel and Humphreys insist they’re not enough.

“There’s a clear need for advancement in our knowledge of recovery processes. We need more information – basic information – about how the brain functions and heals during recovery,” Bickel said. “Understanding how a person’s brain changes after a few years or a few decades in recovery could have substantial clinical, scholarly, and public policy benefits.”

With over 25 million Americans now counting clean time in years, if not decades, the climate is ripe for understanding long-term sobriety.

Now the Applause

Recovery Boot Camp would like to applaud Bickel, Humphries and all their colleagues at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, as well as everyone else involved in studying long-term recovery. An extra special applause goes out to the Center’s International Quit and Recovery Registry. Understanding addiction may have been what gets us going. But understanding long-term recovery is what keeps us moving ahead. And we’re all for any way we can expand on that understanding.

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