Chapter 3: The Fourth Wave of Addiction Recovery

© 2021 Dori Digenti. All rights reserved


The discussion of the Three Waves of Recovery in Chapter 2 weaves a complex tapestry of choices for how to direct our energies and resources for recovery. Each Wave offers a lens through which to view the path to recovery. Adherents of the 12-Step approach see addiction as a spiritual disease that can be healed through peer support. The Second Wave followers see addiction as a chronic brain disease which must be managed through mental health drugs and therapy. Those who follow a Third Wave approach see substance use as part of life. They see the move away from high-risk behaviors and finding safer ways to work with addiction as the goal, rather than total abstinence.


These Three Waves make up our recovery approaches at the present moment. For some who are ready, a combination of these methods can be transformative and sustaining – but are those methods enough to lead to the level of healing that is needed for a truly fulfilling life, and a just world? Can they lead through collective healing, to a world where human suffering does not drive people to addiction? Or are they partially successful holding actions, that help some but leave many to continue cycling through destructive behaviors and risking their lives? What could further our progress on the road to helping more people escape the limitations of addiction?


The Three Waves look at addiction as an individual, human issue. In the Third Wave, our view has expanded to consider the effect of the family and community on the possibility of recovery. Now, it is time to look at the larger human, industrial, economic, and natural systems that drive the addiction crisis. While science directs us to analyze and solve issues through studies that require controlling the variables and focusing on aspects of the complex addiction map, we are now called to look at the complexity of the systems that are perpetuating our addiction crises.


The Fourth Wave of Recovery responds to both the individual causes of addiction, and also the root causes — oppression and collective trauma, which manifest as marginalization, poverty, racism, war, gender bias and violence, and genocide. These collective traumas are deeply disruptive and disconnecting experiences that become trapped in the body and in the psyche. And they are the driver for us to seek relief from the pain of unwanted circumstance.


The teachings of Joanna Macy show us that beyond individual and collective traumatic experiences lies the Great Unravelling, the period of industrial growth that has led to the unequal distribution of resources and the environmental destruction that has come in its wake. As wealth accumulates in ever fewer hands, resources become scarcer. As the climate warms and natural disasters become more frequent, fierce, and destructive, we find that the systems we have are fragile, inadequate, or misdirected to meet this Unravelling. The loss of habitat, loss of species, and the uncertainty of our continued biological existence have brought feelings of grief, despair and fatalism. As critical resources like water and land are destroyed, nations compete for control. All of these global shifts, even if we don’t know the details about them, fuel our fleeing into addiction. We must directly relate to feelings of disconnection and powerlessness in order to overcome this Unravelling. Only then can we enter into, as Macy calls it, the Great Turning, the return to a life-affirming society where resources are restored and shared equitably.


In the Fourth Wave, we begin to look at the landscape of addiction in the context of these underlying traumatic structures and ask: What approach would help us to fundamentally address the separation and disconnection experiences, individual and collective, and the accelerating presence of climate trauma – that underlie addiction? Can these fundamental ruptures be healed? And, to begin that healing, where can we make direct contact with the sources of that separation? In other words, how can we build the bridge from the holding actions of the first Three Waves, to the healing actions that address the complexity of our current experience?


I believe that the healing approaches that emerge in the Fourth Wave of Addiction Recovery will combine:

  • Embodied Recovery – methods such as yoga that view the mind/body as a holistic system of sensation and awareness, and lead to the release of individual and collective trauma held in the body, and can relieve the craving of addiction. We will explore this in Chapters 4-6.
  • Earth-based Recovery – methods such as ecological restoration, small-scale agriculture, and cultivating indoor and outdoor green healing spaces to assist those with addictions to fully reconnect with the conscious living system of nurturing that is the earth. We will explore this in Chapters 7-8.