What do you imagine when you think about addiction? It may be a person you know, or maybe a person you knew. You might think about alcohol and alcoholism. Maybe you think about drugs and substance abuse.
What do you imagine when you think about how to treat addiction? You might think about therapists and psychiatrists. You might think about rehabilitation centers.
Sometimes it may seem like addiction is not so complex an issue. When someone struggles with it, we tend to throw around suggestions like “see a shrink” or “go to rehab.” While these aren’t necessarily bad suggestions, they fail to grasp the severity of the problem, reducing addiction treatment to a simple solution. But again, what do we imagine when we think about psychological treatment of addiction? What do we imagine when we think about rehabilitation?
The Dunes, a luxury residential drug and addiction center in New York’s East Hampton, wants to change the conversation we have about addiction and rehabilitation. Unlike the so-called ‘everyday’ rehab center based on a system of punishment and isolation, The Dunes uses a system of integration and comfort as a way to treat addiction. Like the centers on the West Coast, especially California, The Dunes offers a luxurious estate and facilities to create an intimate and supportive atmosphere, but with the added benefit of being in New York.
Founder Joe McKinsey, in describing his own experiences of recovery, explains his reasons for starting The Dunes: “My experience in recovery was in a hospital and even though you were free to leave, you didn’t. You didn’t have much freedom at all. When they let you go, it was like falling off a cliff.” He goes on to describe how addiction is the disease of isolation, addicts often choosing to be alone over being with family and friends. In order to fight this isolation, The Dunes not only creates a sense of family and community within the estate, but also encourages its residents to keep ties with outside communities. They are encouraged to experience the everyday. For McKinsey, these connections to the everyday, when combined with treatment, are what keep residents from ‘falling off a cliff’: the adjustment from life at the estate to life outside its safeties is made easier because of the continuous exposure to the outside world during their stay at the center.
With Dr. Howard Shaffer, PhD, Director of the Division on Addiction at the Cambridge Health Alliance and a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate, The Dunes has created a treatment approach catered to the case of the individual resident. While the twelve step program is very much used, the treatment does not stop there, but seeks to study the residents’ personalities and tendencies: it is not enough to ‘cure’ the patient of the addiction they came in with. To fully treat the resident, The Dunes’ team works to understand the reasons behind the addiction, for without this knowledge another addiction may replace the first. An addiction is less of a disease and more of a syndrome, capable of taking many forms and therefore requiring many layers to treat the many disorders.
“Minus the drugs and the alcohol, he’s actually a really nice person.” Statements like these are part of what The Dunes tries to address through their treatment: alcohol and drugs do more than just make your life or relationships difficult, but can actually change your personality. While addicted, many are described as mean or uncaring, whereas they hadn’t been before. The Dunes focuses on the importance of taking the drugs out of the equation, all the while striving to make the person you’d once been return.
For most, the fight doesn’t end when leaving a rehabilitation center, but continues well afterwards, many times throughout the person’s life. The Dunes is there to give the building blocks for how to live with addiction, how to control it. A small facility with a small number of residents at one time, the residents receive the one-on-one attention they need to understand and manage their addictions. It is this attention and focus on the individual that make the transition easier for the residents: they have received a personalized treatment that will stay with them for life. Going beyond the rehabilitation center, meetings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) become an important part of the healing and coping process. But these meetings are first introduced to the residents while at The Dunes, the small number of people creating a community where people feel supported, and most importantly, not alone. United in their differences and in their addictions, the residents work together as well as with The Dunes’ teams to create a safe space, a space where all are welcomed and accepted. Through the support of their peers and the expertise of The Dunes, the residents leave the center not only addiction-free, but also with the knowledge that they are part of network of people devoting their lives to supporting each other.