Quality of life is something everyone wants, but few find easy to describe. Even professional researchers agree only that it touches most life circumstances and is based on personal perceptions of satisfaction, success and “happiness.”
Google’s online dictionary defines quality of life as “the standard of health, comfort and happiness experienced by an individual or group.” However, as many people have learned the hard way, achieving a “comfort” or “happiness” goal doesn’t necessarily make you comfortable or happy for long. Other people feel physically lousy most of the time although no medical test can discover an actual health issue. And still other people feel consistently happy despite physical, financial or relational problems.
So to a large extent, the answer to “do you have a good quality of life?” is subjective. However, there are some aspects of “high life quality” that are acknowledged almost universally.
QUANTIFYING QUALITY OF LIFE
One official standard is the Healthy Days Measures questionnaire, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to measure health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Points assessed under HRQOL include:
- Would you say that in general your health is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor?
- How many days during the past 30 days was your physical health not good?
- How many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?
- During the past 30 days, approximately how many days did poor physical or mental health keep you from doing your usual activities?
The Healthy Days Measures also include questions about sleep patterns, energy levels and specific physical or mental symptoms. They do not, however, cover spiritual or economic aspects of life.
More recently, a Norwegian research team studied quality of life as specifically related to substance addiction, rating “quality” according to physical health, mental health, intimate-partner relationships, other interpersonal relationships and “relationship with oneself.” Surveying drug-detox patients six months after initial detoxification, the studies concluded:
- 58% of patients showed significant improvement in perceived quality of life six months after treatment.
- Patients who maintained abstinence for six months nearly doubled their quality-of-life scores, while those who relapsed showed only minor improvement. Success in maintaining abstinence (or in sustaining improved quality of life despite one or more relapses) was influenced by economic and social-support factors.
- Living alone had a negative impact on quality-of-life score, as did “psychological distress.”
- “Severity” of substance abuse had relatively little influence on quality-of-life improvement. However, co-occurring mental illnesses reduced the likelihood of substantial progress.
- Women experienced greater improvement than men.
- Patients who entered treatment due to outside pressure improved their quality of life on about the same level as those who entered by their own initiative.
The rest of this article looks further at how addiction treatment and recovery can improve quality of life for you and your loved ones.
HOW ADDICTION TREATMENT IMPROVES QUALITY OF LIFE
Various research findings show specific ways recovery from addiction has improved quality of life for patients and loved ones alike—and even for the larger community.
- People in long-term recovery (five years or more) need fewer physical and mental health treatments.
- People in long-term recovery are significantly less likely to clash with the criminal justice system.
- Two-thirds to three-quarters of patients report that their ability to maintain stable employment or stay in school improves through recovery.
- Around 80% of people in recovery—twice as many as those in the population as a whole—volunteer regularly for community service projects.
- One-on-one relationships also improve in recovery. A 2006 Gallup survey of 902 people who had experience with a family member’s addiction confirmed that loved ones notice when someone changes for the better: of the 446 participants who reported that their loved ones had received treatment, 38% said the patient made a complete recovery, and another 44% noticed at least some improvement. (Of 371 individuals who considered the addiction to have been overcome, 23% credited “family involvement” as the primary motivator.)
- More than 80% of families who had domestic-violence problems report that the violence stops after an addicted family member receives treatment.
- 12% of those in recovery report being “reunited with their children.”
- People in recovery have better-defined life priorities, stick to their goals more consistently, understand themselves and others better, and are less likely to see themselves as victims.
If you’ve been “thinking about” getting treatment, consider how it can help change your and others’ quality of life for the better. If you’ve been reluctant to confront a loved one who has an addiction, start by asking where they’d like to improve their lives, rather than focusing on what’s wrong.
HOW YOU CAN HELP IMPROVE EVERYONE’S QUALITY OF LIFE
And if you or a loved one is already in treatment or recovery, remember these hints to further improve quality of life:
- Get evaluated and treated for any co-occurring mental illnesses.
- Get evaluated and treated for physical-health issues as well.
- Get consistent human support. If you live alone or have no close family, be doubly diligent about attending support-group meetings, making sober friends who share your healthier interests, and seeking reconciliation with any potential supporters you’ve been alienated from.
- Keep a solid relapse-prevention plan—complete with emergency contacts—ready to go.
- Learn healthy techniques for dealing with conflict and managing emotions.
- Whether or not you have a job, look for opportunities to use your talents in assisting the larger community.
- Look for projects, even private ones, you can take initiative in developing. Having some sense of being in control will make relapse less tempting and will improve your perception of how good your life is.
- Practice thinking positive and appreciating your blessings. Remember, much of “quality of life” is subjective—your personal QOL need not depend on life’s meeting your personal definition of “fair.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQOL): Methods and Measures.” Updated May 27, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “HRQOL Concepts: Why Is Quality of Life Important?” Updated May 31, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017.
Gamboa, Cesar. “Abstinence and Social Support Crucial to Improved Quality of Life after Drug Detox.” DrugAddictionNow.com, May 3, 2017. Accessed October 23, 2017.
IESE Business School. “Quality of Life: Everyone Wants It, But What Is It?” Forbes.com, September 4, 2013. Accessed October 23, 2017.
Pasareanu, Adrian R., Anne Opsal, John-Kare Vederhus, Oistein Kristensen, and Thomas Clausen. “Quality of Life Improved Following In-Patient Substance Use Disorder Treatment.” Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, No. 13, p. 35. Published online March 14, 2015. Accessed October 23, 2017.
Vederhus, John-Kare, Bente Birkeland, and Thomas Clausen. “Perceived Quality of Life, 6 Months after Detoxification: Is Abstinence a Modifying Factor?” Quality of Life Research, 2016, No. 25, pp. 2315–2322. Published online March 19, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2017.