Lois and Jack Schwarz
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Pilot Project in Prevention of Relapse
with Substance Abuse Teenagers


From August of 1991 to October of 1994, the Aletheia Foundation carried out a pilot program for the prevention of relapse into substance abuse. Three small groups of four to six adolescents and young adults were recruited to participate in a three-year study. During an initial ten weeks of intensive training, instruction in techniques of breathing and perceptualizations, eye movement exercises and use of autogenics to monitor brainwave states were given, along with the principle underlying their use. Each participant chose a support person who joined them in a two-hour weekly session following the four-hour intensive. Periodic follow-up was continued for the remainder of the three years.
  1. Relapse was prevented in about two-thirds of the clients who completed the program.
  2. The instruments and exercises used were manageable by all participants, including the support people. Those which help in relaxation and self-knowledge appear to be the most effective.
  3. Self-esteem of most of the participants increased during the intensive training period as indicated by the Cooper-Smith Personality Inventory, self-reports, and observations made by staff in discussions.
  4. The activities in the program reported as most useful to participants were the autogenics and EEG work, and the breathing techniques. The assessment, journal work, nutrition, perceptualizations and group work were also seen as useful.
  5. The activities in the program reported as most interesting to the participants were the breathing techniques and the EEG and the autogenics work. The group work was also seen as interesting.
  6. Selecting the "right" support person was an important factor that fostered improved family relationships and self-understanding.
  7. The project staff was reported as being loving, caring, wonderful people working in a friendly atmosphere that generated insight and positive feelings.
  8. The participants, as revealed in the autogenics/EEG work, were usually in the predominantly theta/delta brainwave state at the beginning of practice. (The usual predominant state is low level beta.) This meant that we had to reverse the typical autogenics sequence in order to help participants shift into alpha and beta brainwave states. The alpha brainwave state was the most difficult to reach by the longer-time substance users.
  9. All but one of the participants who have continued in the pilot program report that life is better, and that they have been empowered to better manage stress when it occurs.

Reflections on What We Have Learned From The Pilot Project



It is extremely important that teenagers have an understanding of how their body functions and ways to get into the highest level of body-mind harmony. Certainly, they need to know how to use the breathing techniques, autogenics and eye exercises to deal with the stress and addictive urges.

Both at inner city schools and in suburban and most rural schools, these techniques are not made readily available to children and youth. Our project has made us realize that it is important to start this education early so that healthy attitudes toward the body are learned along with understanding of the relationship of body-mind functioning.

Two of the young subjects (in their twenties and early thirties) found it tougher than the younger participants to make the shift away from using substances abusively. This is due to a number of factors, including denial of addiction and having had a longer time period of abuse. It is also probable that at least one of the older participants started using drugs early on as an escape to cope with his view of the world.

This participant has reported that both his circle of friends and his colleagues are into "using" as after-work entertainment; seen as relaxation by some. One's determination to quit needs to be very strong to be able to say "no" or shift to a different set of friends or work setting. Several key lessons are important for recovering substance abusers to learn include:
  1. Ways to deal with the physical urge to use the toxic substance to which they have become addicted.
  2. Techniques to relax, regulate stress and sleep.
  3. Competence in identifying their brainwave states and understanding the relationship of these to their behavior.
  4. The importance of scheduling time to continue practice at home of the various exercises, keeping records of their diet and practice, as well as, a journal of their feelings and progress.
  5. Being aware of how one feels about oneself and the future and how to influence those feelings in a positive manner, along with the value of having a support person or group to encourage a shift. Hearing from the clients and their support persons over the last three years has shown the empowerment received through the encouragement we continuously gave. The many basic breathing and relaxation exercises are being used by the clients when anger or stress arises.
In Aletheia's subsequent project of "Helping Children Who Have Basic Learning Skill Problems," we have taught similar relaxation exercises. With these young children we are seeing the same results of empowerment and maturity taking place. We must continue.



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