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An acronym for focused treatment and recovery

February 25, 2013
by John Baldasare
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I started my first job in a treatment center in 1973. Having wrapped up a degree and being eager to begin a career helping people, I set out to learn all I could about addiction and recovery. So it was group therapy, CBT, reality therapy, 12 Steps, medication, meditation, and on and on. Our facility provided lectures and videos, family programs, aftercare, encouragement, prodding, consequences, and anything else we thought would work. We brought in psychologists, counselors, doctors, family therapists, social workers and shamans. Hundreds of workshops and seminars were attended, with varied results. We made every effort to help in any way we could. We were committed and determined. Some recovered.

Yet something seemed to be missing. It was like throwing everything at the patient and hoping something would stick. To quote the late, great Father Martin regarding what works, “The right person, saying the right thing, at the right time.” I think it was a reference to a spiritual awakening. I lived by that quote for some time. Basically we were wishing and hoping for the best outcome.

We have come a long way as a field, becoming much more sophisticated and research-driven. To a degree, best practices have saved the day. However, we are still without a solid foundation, with the shifting sands of other disciplines and specialties claiming our turf, criticizing our efforts, and questioning our resolve. We must forge a solid identity and be more specific about what we do as a specialized field of professional practice. And if we could also simplify and clarify, public understanding and stigma reduction could ensue.

A simple construct

A turning point for me occurred when a serious leg injury stopped my daily running activity about 10 years into my career. When conferring with an orthopedic specialist, I was informed that in order to recover, I needed “rice.”  Rice? I was more of a pasta guy.

He went on to explain that what worked best is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation: RICE. I found that all who work in that medical discipline were in agreement on this formula. No one questioned it. RICE it was then, RICE it is now. How refreshing, I thought—and so simple. We in the addiction field could use something like RICE that we could all agree upon and that we could convey to our patients as a prescription for recovery.

As it happened, I was later working up a continuing care plan for a talented young musician who played in a band called Slugs. It was a challenging case, with this being his second go at primary inpatient treatment. As I sat studying my notes, and praying a bit, it struck me that this patient could use “SLUGS.”  What works is to put Sobriety first. Love was the next ingredient for recovery. He had a caring counselor, family and friends who were there for him, and they would love him until he could start loving himself. Unity with fellow addicts was also important, as were Growth and Spirituality.

There it was: SLUGS. Sobriety, Love, Unity, Growth, and Spirituality. This patient embraced the approach and went on to full recovery, making beautiful music over the years.

Later, I developed a presentation of this model for new patient orientation. It was always well-received, serving to provide a clear path to recovery and demystifying the process. Other addiction professionals have utilized SLUGS, some as a format for therapy groups. This model has been presented at statewide medical professional conferences, and feedback from some of our field leaders has been positive.