‘Listen to me!’ Former patients’ reflections about inpatient substance use disorder treatment and the ongoing recovery process four years after discharge.
Background: Substance use disorder (SUD) is multifactorial and complex. It involves the severe problematic use of alcohol, prescription drugs and other substances, often in combination with mental health problems. People with SUD and mental illness have long histories of stigma, marginalisation, exclusion, social isolation and shame. Moreover, patients with SUD are often treated as untrustworthy and incapable of actively participating in their treatment and recovery planning, even by healthcare and social services workers. The search for a better life is often called ‘recovery’. Personal, social and relational recovery concepts may all embody a change of focus from the paternalistic approach towards a practice that increases patients’ empowerment and cooperation. This study aims to explore former patients’ experiences and reflections on SUD, treatment and recovery.
Method: In 2020, we conducted qualitative interviews with 11 former patients four years after discharge from long-term, inpatient SUD treatment in specialised healthcare settings. We performed thematic and interpretative phenomenological analyses.
Results: Recovery processes are complex when related to substance use, mental health and social functioning. Perceptions of well-being and success vary over time and are not always in line with the use of substances but are rather related to several parts of life. The informants described trustworthy and collaborative relationships with professionals as crucial, both during treatment and after.
Conclusions: We suggest that a transition to a more collaborative philosophy during and after treatment would be ethically and professionally valuable for enhancing perceptions of empowerment, inclusion, participation and well-being.