Overcoming Terminal Uniqueness in Addiction Treatment

For many newcomers to drug and alcohol treatment programs, feeling like they don’t belong in the group because they don’t have anything in common with other members is common. It’s a phenomenon known as “terminal uniqueness,” and it’s a form of denial that allows addicts and alcoholics to believe that the situation they are facing is unlike any situation anyone else has ever faced, ever. For newly recovering addicts entering alcohol treatment programs, terminal uniqueness can become an excuse to leave treatment – if you let it.

What Is Terminal Uniqueness?

Terminal uniqueness, also known as personal exceptionalism, is a belief that the bad things that are happening to others in your situation can’t happen to you, because you’re different. Think of the smoker who continues puffing away even though he or she knows that cigarettes cause lung cancer – that person is suffering from terminal uniqueness. It’s called “terminal” because, if you don’t knock it off, it will kill you.

As an addict in the throes of active drug or alcohol addiction, terminal uniqueness can allow you to continue self-destructive behaviors. No matter how many times you see others destroy themselves, terminal uniqueness will allow you to tell yourself that it couldn’t happen to you – you are somehow, as if by magic, exempt from the rules of addiction that govern the lives of so many others.

Terminal Uniqueness in Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs

For many addicts who are new to recovery, terminal uniqueness doesn’t just disappear because they sobered up. Instead, it allows addicts and alcoholics to tell themselves that they don’t belong in alcohol treatment programs, because they’re not like the other people there.

If you’ve sat in a 12-Step meeting or a group therapy session and felt like you didn’t belong because you don’t have anything in common with the other members of the group, you’ve experienced the undermining effect terminal uniqueness can have on your recovery efforts. When you look at the other members of your treatment group, all you can see is what makes you different from them.

Of course, there’s a good chance that you are very different from the other members of your treatment group, especially if you’re attending 12-Step meetings that are open to the community. People from all walks of life and all backgrounds find their way into alcohol treatment programs. Most alcohol treatment programs will be populated by people of different ages, races, professional backgrounds and genders.

Your recovery program will probably put you into close contact with people whose lives have been very different from yours, and these people will likely hold some very different opinions and view the world through very different perspectives.

Finding Common Ground in Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs

Just because the other people in your addiction treatment groups have very different lives and backgrounds doesn’t mean you have nothing in common. In fact, you have one very big thing in common – you all suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

It’s easy to get hung up on the differences between yourself and the other members of the group. If other members of your group have been abusing multiple substances for years and you’ve only abused one substance for a short period of time, it’s easy to tell yourself that you’re not as bad an addict as they are. If you’re a woman and most or all of the members of your group are men, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. If you’re young and other members of your group are old – or vice versa – it’s easy to feel like they won’t understand you or take your struggles seriously.

Instead of getting hung up on how the other members of your addiction treatment program are so much different from you, look for ways in which you are similar. Look past the superficial differences between you and listen hard to what the other members of your group tell you about themselves. When you pay attention, you will find that you have more in common with the other members of your group than you thought. And, if it turns out that you really are a poor fit for your treatment program, you can always find another program – but not without giving the one you’re in a chance first.

Whether you’re still in active addiction or you’ve entered treatment, thinking you’re different from others in the same situation is a dangerous trap to fall into. Focus on finding the common ground you have with your peers in treatment, and you’ll find that you’re able to help one another more than you ever expected.

Do Frequent ER Visits Mean a Need Drug or Alcohol Treatment Programs?

According to a new study from researchers at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, people who visit the ER at least 10 times a year are likely to be addicts in need of drug and alcohol treatment programs. While not all people who visit the ER frequently are addicted to alcohol or drugs, the study found that at least 77 percent of those who use the ER 10 or more times a year suffer from a substance abuse problem.

Addiction Among Frequent ER Visitors

Emergency room physicians have long suspected that most of the patients who frequently seek emergency medical services need drug and alcohol treatment programs, but this is one of the first studies to take a look at the actual numbers. The researchers examined the addiction history of 255 “super-frequent” users who sought care at Henry Ford’s Emergency Department 10 times a year or more between 2004 and 2013. They also examined the data to determine if imposing prescribing guidelines for narcotic medications had any effect on the number of patients who came into the ER seeking those medications.

The study found that 77 percent of those who visit the ER at least 10 times a year have a substance abuse disorder. Forty-seven percent of those were addicted to opiate painkillers. Forty-four percent were addicted to illegal drugs, like cocaine. Thirty-five percent of those who seek care in the ER 10 times a year are alcoholics.

Prescribing Guidelines Significantly Reduce ER Overuse

Many of the addicts who seek frequent ER care want a prescription for narcotic painkillers. Women are more likely than men to use the ER for this purpose. In 2011, ERs around the nation saw 2.5 million visits involving drug misuse or abuse. The rate of ER visits related to drug abuse or misuse climbed 19 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network. An ER that receives an average of 75,000 visits per year can expect to receive as many as 262 monthly visits from addicts seeking narcotic drugs.

The study found that, since Henry Ford Hospital implemented the Community Resources for Emergency Department Overuse (CREDO) in 2004, the number of yearly visits from addicts seeking narcotic painkillers dropped from 32.4 times a year to 13.8 times a year. Among those in need of drug or alcohol treatment programs who were not specifically looking for narcotic painkillers in the ER, yearly visits dropped from 33 to 11.6.

Keeping People in Need of Drug or Alcohol Treatment Programs Out of the ER

Obviously, people who need emergency medical care for reasons related to drug and alcohol abuse deserve treatment just as much as anyone else. But ER doctors can’t keep these people from over-using emergency department facilities without addressing the underlying cause of their frequent ER visits, which is drug and alcohol addiction.

Increasing access to drug and alcohol treatment programs is the only way to effectively reduce or eliminate the overuse of emergency departments by people struggling with substance abuse. Providing the treatment substance abusers need guarantees that they no longer need to visit the ER for medical care due to misuse of drugs and alcohol, or to try and obtain narcotic painkillers from an ER physician.

Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, RN, PsyD, lead author of the Henry Ford Hospital study, put it this way: “Boosting federal and state funding for substance abuse programs could help alleviate some of the frequent use of Emergency Departments as sources of addiction care.”

Indeed, ERs aren’t equipped to provide the long-term care addicts need in order to get well. The most an ER physician can do is treat the symptoms of drug overdose or alcohol poisoning, and then send the addicts back out into the streets, where they’ll just go right back to drug and alcohol use. Even when ER physicians can make a referral to drug and alcohol treatment programs, the addiction epidemic sweeping our nation means that these programs are often underfunded and over-booked.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, don’t rely on government-funded drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Call 888-699-5679 today to learn more about affordable, effective addiction treatment in Delray Beach.