Treating More Than Addiction
At Driftwood Recovery, residents find the healing they need from chronic pain and addiction.
After spending more than 20 years in the fields of pain management and recovery and addiction, James Flowers knows all too well that chronic pain can lead to chemical dependence. The founder and chief executive officer of Driftwood Recovery has witnessed the cause-effect relationship time and again. Furthermore, he has observed how today’s Western medicine often treats physical pain and emotional pain with the same opioid prescriptions. Although well-intentioned — to help patients manage pain — the combination often leads to different problems, such as America’s opioid epidemic. Flowers established the Driftwood, Texas, residential treatment center to reduce prescription dependence by addressing both pain and addiction.
“Dr. Flowers’ career specialty is the behavioral treatment of various pain conditions caused by accidents, injuries and chronic illness,” says Rosemary Lacy, director of business development at Driftwood. “With increased awareness of the opiate epidemic, the necessity for chronic pain treatment has increased as well.”
As posted on Driftwood Recovery’s website, “Approximately 70 percent of physical pain is an emotional reaction to pain itself. Long-term use of pain medication actually increases the body’s sensitivity to pain, causing pain to amplify. Taking prescription pain medication long term, or self-medicating in other ways, can lead to life-threatening consequences. What started as a way to manage pain becomes a debilitating substance abuse.”
Lacy further explains that the body is designed to heal in 90 days. If healing does not occur in that timeframe and pain continues, then it is defined as chronic pain. “When people come to us, they are frustrated and depressed; they think there is no hope,” she says. “They are just throwing pills at it, and the pain is not going away.
“[Dr. Flowers’] vision was to bring together the absolute best clinical team in the country to create a healing experience like no other,” she continues. “By incorporating cutting-edge medical and behavioral treatment modalities, those suffering from both chronic pain and addiction could find the healing they need.”
The team at Driftwood carries out that mission by combining adventure-based therapy with traditional modalities. For example, residents follow a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or an alternative addiction recovery program, such as Smart Recovery, which means they attend group meetings and participate in individual counseling as offered at many traditional addiction recovery facilities. The difference for Driftwood residents lies in the addition of physical activity. For some clients dealing with chronic pain, that extra piece may seem counterintuitive.
“If I’m physically hurting, why would I want to exercise?” they might ask.
Well, Flowers’ experience indicates otherwise. When physical activity is supervised and measured, it can make a great deal of difference for those suffering from chronic pain as well as those challenged by addiction, particularly young people who are seeking ways to reinvent their fun in a sober mindset.
Lacy shares the story of an older gentleman who came to Driftwood in chronic pain. He was unable to even lift his head. While working through his behavioral issues and reducing his dependence
on medications, he met with Driftwood’s physical therapy staff. He began walking along part of the track on the 85-acre campus. Then he started weightlifting. One day, he noticed that the people around him were lifting more weight, so he asked his fitness trainer why he wasn’t lifting more.
She explained that he had told her his pain level, on a scale of 1 to 10, was at a 12, so she was starting him off at a lower weight. “The next day,” Lacy says, “he told the trainer that his pain was at a 9.
“And that’s the benefit of psychotherapy,” she continues. “If the client says, ‘I’m a 12,’ doctors give him more medicine. Pain patients tend to report higher on the scale. We are reteaching them that a higher pain report is not going to get them what they want here.”
By the time the man left Driftwood, he was using ski poles to walk and could participate in life, whereas he hadn’t been able to do so before.
That man’s case is representative of one type of client Driftwood treats. The other typical resident is strictly chemical dependent. But these clients also benefit from the adventure-based therapies. By learning new skills and participating in outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, high or low ropes courses, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming, they heal themselves. “[The suite of activities we offer] combines to help the brain keep moving,” Lacy says.
She adds that young people in recovery are drawn to the adventure-based therapy. “It really speaks to them,” Lacy says. “They want to know they can have a quality, fun life — sober. We teach them healthier ways to live their lives and how to have fun.”
By treating the mind and activating the body, the Driftwood staff cares for each resident holistically. The behavioral and mental health work addresses core and underlying issues because, as Lacy points out from the Alcoholics Anonymous philosophy, addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem: “You can’t fix that problem unless you know what it is. We don’t force people to label themselves, however. People are sometimes resistant to accepting that they are an alcoholic or an addict. Our behavioral work helps change the context. Instead of labels, we talk about what’s going on internally and emotionally.”
Which is not to say that the evidence-based therapies implemented ignore acceptance. It’s quite the opposite. One of the favored therapies used for both addiction and chronic pain is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It pairs acceptance and mindfulness with behavioral changes to precipitate overall wellness.
When Driftwood’s team gathers for morning meetings Monday through Friday, the clinical staff and support staff work together to bring understanding and perspective to each client’s treatment planning.
“We discuss every case every morning,” Lacy says. “I’ve been involved in the recovery industry since 2004, and I’ve never seen a group of people who cares more [about the residents and their care].”
Because treatment is intimate — 18 beds in the residential facility and 15 beds in an extended care center (mostly for participants of the intensive outpatient program or the partial hospitalization program, both steps down from full residential care) — the staff and the other residents get to know one another well. The staff talks about which strategies to employ, which might range from ACT to cognitive behavioral therapy to dialectical behavioral therapy to dual-diagnosis treatment to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Even acupuncture is integrated as necessary.
Lacy points out that most clients go to the extended care center after 30 to 45 days, where “we continue the work with the same clinician. That continuity of care has made us very successful.”
As for young people in recovery who are interested in pursuing their college degrees, Driftwood actively advocates in favor of that decision. “We always encourage them to get back to school,” Lacy says. “Depending on their circumstances, they can enroll in tandem with treatment, thanks to online courses.”
Whatever the course of treatment, Driftwood founders know that it takes a lot of courage. “To battle addiction and chronic pain is not an easy fight,” Lacy says, “but it is one that is honorable and courageous.”