What happens when recovered addicts go back to work, groceries, getting the car fixed, and boring conversations about the playoffs?

Frances Bula – writer of our August cover story on B.C.'s booming addiction treatment industry – asks: Are addicts simply swapping the narcotic rush for the ecstasy of treatment?

When I told one guy who works in the addiction field that I was writing a story about the treatment industry, he laughed and said, “Oh, it’s not an industry. It’s religion – and addiction specialists are the new voodoo doctors.”

I’m not quite that cynical. There is a lot of interesting science research being done on addiction and that research is filtering out to the treatment field. But I had to admit that he had a point about the religious feel to the programs.  

As I visited different treatment centres for my BCBusiness story, each one was an incredibly intense experience that eerily reminded me of the Catholicism that permeated my Regina childhood. Every person I talked to was so desperately focused on not being a sinner any more, on staying on the path to salvation, on performing rituals that would protect him from harm. And every one was convinced that the treatment centre he was at now was the True Way.

That came through the most when I got to sit in on a group meeting at the Last Door, a treatment centre in New Westminster run by the unforgettable Dave Pavlus. (When I made some offhand comment to him about how any biker seemed to be able to open up a recovery house because the rules are so lax, he laughed, made a “whoa” gesture, and pushed back his sleeves to show me his heavily tattooed arms.)

It was like being at a prayer meeting, with guys randomly confessing their sins ("I used to treat my wife so bad"; "I used to think I was so cool because I was doing drugs just like my clients"; "I was an asshole") and then talking about how they had found the light. They were in touch with their fears, they were kinder to their parents, they were at peace with the world.

It was all genuine and completely true, I don’t have a doubt.

But it also felt like another kind of high, the high you get from religious experiences. And it made me wonder – I still do – what happens when these guys go back to their daily lives: work, groceries, getting the car fixed, cleaning up dog vomit, long, boring conversations about the weather or the playoffs or why Janey won’t do her homework.

Is it hard to live without the high of treatment? Is that why some slip back to drugs and drinking? Because it seems like what treatment does is trade one high for another: the exhilaration of raw, open group meetings, talking to other guys about your inner life in a way you never did before, feeling like you’ve found God.

As a reporter, it’s hard for me to see what will happen to all those guys I listened to who were so euphoric about their cure. All I get is a snapshot of a moment of their lives and some general numbers about how many stay on the path to righteousness. I left wishing for each of them that it all works out. But wondering about their future.