Recovery from Addiction Explained
Addiction is a serious condition that can turn lives upside down. But there is hope: Millions of people worldwide have overcome their addictions and now lead happy, healthy and successful lives in recovery.
What Is Addiction Recovery?
Addiction recovery is the process by which someone suffering from an addiction works to overcome it and commits to improving their well-being, physical and mental health and life circumstances to achieve happiness and endeavour to fulfil their potential.
Addiction recovery is not simply abstaining from substances of abuse or habit-forming behaviours. Abstinence is just one important step in recovery, which is a much broader and more holistic process. Other steps include addressing the issues and behaviours that resulted in addiction, and when necessary, changing one’s outlook and thinking to live in a more positive, healthy and productive manner.
How Long Does Addiction Recovery Take?
Someone struggling with addiction and contemplating getting help may want to think of treatment and recovery as a process with a definable end, after which they will be “cured”. However, the fact is that recovery is a lifelong process that needs to be worked on and maintained long after the end of the treatment programme.
Many who have gone through treatment continue to say “I am an addict,” even though it may have been years since they last used. They may continue to describe themselves as being “in recovery” because this attitude reminds them that the temptation to abuse substances is still present and vigilance must be maintained to avoid relapse.
Addiction treatment itself may be relatively short: residential rehabilitation can be as short as a fortnight, though one to three months is more typical. Other types of treatment, such as managed dosage tapering or substituting medications, can last for weeks or months and possibly lead to rehab or other holistic forms of treatment. After treatment, many individuals go to counselling or self-help meetings for months or even years.
Process and Stages Involved in Addiction Recovery
Many addiction specialists highlight five main stages of recovery. Just as every user is unique, so is each journey through recovery: some people may move between stages repeatedly, skip some stages entirely or go through different stages simultaneously. There is no universal roadmap to recovery that guarantees success.
As the individual thinks more and more about the harm their addiction is doing, both to themselves and others, they begin to consider making a change. They may start to learn more about addiction and recovery, speaking with people close to them about their addiction and contemplating treatment options such as rehab.
Awareness and early acknowledgement of addiction
This first stage begins when a user becomes aware that they have a serious problem that is causing damage to themselves and those around them. This may evolve naturally or be prompted by loved ones and friends or by negative financial, professional, academic or health consequences. The individual continues to realize the harmful nature of their addiction and its consequences.
After a period of consideration, the person may realise that they must take responsibility for their actions and move decisively towards treatment. During the preparation stage, the user may start investigating specific rehab programmes and gathering resources that will help them change. They may reduce their substance abuse or engagement in addictive behaviour and may even sign up for treatment.
The early recovery phase sees the individual taking steps toward abstinence. This may involve attending rehab, going through detoxification (detox) and withdrawal and beginning participation in therapy, counselling, self-help groups and other tools. This phase can be extremely demanding as it requires huge shifts in behaviour and outlook. The user must move away from addiction’s psychological crutches and come to terms with leaving behind its pleasures, learning other ways to find satisfaction and happiness.
During this period, relapse is an ever-present danger and may even occur multiple times. But relapse is not failure; the individual may simply be stumbling along the path to eventual recovery.
Active recovery and maintenance
The longest and perhaps most challenging phase of addiction recovery is maintenance. This is the period after treatment, when abstinence has been achieved and the individual must sustain their recovery. Avoiding relapse and its triggers is an ongoing challenge, and many individuals may go through early recovery and even a long period of maintenance before relapsing. Constant diligence and dedication, and a great deal of support — possibly in the form of professional help — are required to sustain an active recovery and maintain hard-won abstinence.
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Finding & Choosing the Best Way to Recover from Addiction
There is no universal best way to overcome addiction and ensure a successful recovery. If you are struggling with addiction, your journey to recovery will be unique. However, attempting to beat an addiction independently is rarely successful. Making use of the professional help available gives you access to the expertise, medical support, therapy and other elements that can provide indispensable to achieving success.
Most people seeking help with their addiction will require assistance getting that help: they are unlikely to be familiar with treatment options, available facilities or the challenges they should expect during treatment and recovery.
Speaking with an addiction specialist is always recommended if you are considering getting help tackling your addiction. A professional can educate you about your condition and the many aspects of treating it and can point you towards specific treatment options and facilities that might be appropriate for you. They can also help with your preparations for engaging in treatment and with defining and managing your expectations for the process ahead of you.
Advantages of Visiting Addiction Treatment and Rehab Centres During Recovery
There are many reasons why it is better to get professional help than to go it alone if you are contemplating attempting recovery, foremost amongst which is simple safety: recovery (especially the withdrawal phase) can be dangerous, and even deadly, and attempting it independently can lead to catastrophic consequences.
What form that professional help might take, and when you receive it, can vary significantly; however, attending specialist treatment and rehab facilities has a number of significant advantages which can prove decisive in terms of your ability to overcome your addiction.
and about how to prevent relapse going forward. Rehab can provide you with a peer group which understands your experiences and the nature of addiction and can provide you with potentially crucial support, especially during particularly emotionally challenging times.
It can also give you a strong daily routine – which may have been lacking previously, during the prediction – including dietary and fitness plans which can help bring your body back up to a state of fitness and health (which may have been sorely lacking).
Good rehabs also offer detailed aftercare programmes; addiction professionals know that recovery does not end the moment that you walk out of their facility, but needs tending to and supporting long afterwards. Aftercare helps you adjust to life back out of the facility, and to maintain the behaviours and defence mechanisms you will have learnt during treatment which may make the difference between sustaining a successful recovery and lapsing back into addiction.
Detoxification: The First Step of Treatment and Recovery from Substance Abuse
Detox is a critical first step for anyone who has developed a substance use disorder. Detox involves cleansing the brain and body of substances of abuse during a period of abstinence, in order to overcome any physical dependence which may have developed and to ensure that the one suffering from an addiction is no longer under the influence of substances of abuse when they move into the next phase of treatment.
Detox is typically accompanied by withdrawal. When someone consumes a substance of abuse over time, they may develop dependence – the phenomenon whereby their system becomes reliant upon certain levels of that substance in order to perform its normal functions – and suddenly withdrawing that substance from the system (for example, by stopping taking it) can lead to various negative, and potentially dangerous, symptoms manifesting which are collectively known as withdrawal syndrome.
Going through withdrawal is notoriously difficult, unpleasant and distressing, but it is often an inescapable aspect of embarking on addiction treatment. Fortunately, some of the worst symptoms of withdrawal can be alleviated at least in part with medication provided by expert medical professionals – whose assistance is anyway indispensable in order to ensure the safety of the withdrawing addict: withdrawal from certain substances, especially alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be directly fatal, while withdrawal generally can be so unpleasant as to cause the affected individual to self-harm or even attempt suicide. Because of this, attempting detoxification and withdrawal by yourself is extremely inadvisable: always get medical support.
How long detox and withdrawal last depends a great deal on the nature, severity and duration of the addiction, and on the physiology of the person fighting addiction themselves. There is no one single roadmap for withdrawal; some cases last a week or two, others months, and some people may develop post-acute – or protracted – withdrawal syndrome in which symptoms may persist for years. However, without detoxification, the immediate pressures of physical dependence will persist, and it will be impossible to tackle the deeper psychological issues causing addiction while those pressures continue to compel the person suffering from addiction towards substance abuse, or while withdrawal syndrome dominates their mind and body.
Inpatient Addiction Treatment and Recovery Programmes
Rehab is typically engaged in on an inpatient basis, with addicts going to stay in dedicated facilities and receiving treatment on site. Stays in rehab usually last between one and three months (though shorter, more intensive stays, as well as longer residencies in particularly severe cases are both available), during which time rehab clients will benefit from on-site medical attention and therapy, fitness facilities and bespoke diets, and potentially various other elements (depending on the nature of the facility) all in a secluded, secure and confidential environment free of substances of abuse.
Outpatient Addiction Treatment and Recovery Programmes
Outpatient treatment can be beneficial for individuals who are unable for one reason or another (for example, because of family or professional obligations) to take the time out required for a comparatively protracted inpatient stay. Therapy and medication can be provided on an outpatient basis, with other components of a treatment programme (for example, fitness and dietary-related) being performed independently; support can also be given over the phone and via email outside appointment times. However, outpatient treatment can be somewhat problematic, as it does not remove the person fighting addiction from their daily circumstances in which they have been unable to resist the temptation to engage in addictive behaviour, and does not prevent them from obtaining substances of abuse (whereas inpatient treatment ensures a substance-free environment).
The Contribution of Therapy to Addiction Recovery
Therapy is absolutely fundamental to addiction treatment and recovery. While detoxification, possibly along with medication, can tackle the immediate challenges of dependence and withdrawal, removing the physiological need to engage in substance abuse, only therapy can uncover and address the underlying psychological causes of addiction, enabling the one who is addicted to identify the behaviours which have caused such damage and to work on remediating them. Though it is not necessarily helpful to think of things in these terms, if the detoxification phase heals the body, therapy seeks to heal the mind.
and if you are engaging in addiction therapy you may need to try out various different therapy formats before settling on a structure which works best for you.
Engaging in therapy as part of a group allows clients to experience multiple points of view, and to share experiences and insights which can benefit everyone in the group. Having contact with others who have experienced the highs and lows of addiction and its consequences for their lives can have extremely positive effects by showing those suffering from an addiction that they are not alone, and enabling them to learn from others in similar situations.
When people think of therapy, they usually think of individual – or one-to-one – approaches where a therapist works with one client at a time. Numerous different methodologies can be applied, with some of the most common being cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI) and contingency management (CM).
The role of the family is often overlooked in addiction treatment, but family support can be crucial during recovery – as can an awareness of the effects that addiction has had upon family members. Involving the family in therapy can give them critical insights into their loved one’s experiences, challenges, triggers and requirements which can prove extremely beneficial over the long term; likewise, family members who have been damaged emotionally and psychologically by their loved one’s behaviour can themselves benefit from therapy, including demonstrating what is needed to be done going forwards.
Holistic treatment services
Holistic therapies consider the addict’s mind, body and spirit simultaneously, taking the approach that all three elements need healing if an addiction is to be truly overcome. Numerous different holistic methodologies are provided which may include activities such as yoga, art therapy, acupuncture, meditation, music therapy and many others. Not all treatment organisations offer holistic approaches, so if this is the direction in which you would like to go, speak with an addiction specialist about holistic treatment options.
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Medications that can Aid Addiction Recovery
Medication can play an important role in addiction recovery. Prior to the commencement of a full addiction treatment programme, some addicts may use certain medication to enable them to be weaned off more problematic, dangerous and/or illegal substances of abuse, making it easier to taper down dosages over time; others may be prescribed medications which block the effects of their substances of abuse, or even render them unpleasant (for example, some medication used in the treatment of alcoholism immediately brings on symptoms of hangover if alcohol is consumed) in order to disincentivise their consumption.
Medication can be especially important during detox and withdrawal, as some of the more dangerous and/or unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can be alleviated or even staved off entirely by the use of appropriate medicines. Even after withdrawal, some medications can help recovering addicts sustain their recoveries by addressing mental health issues which may have caused or been caused by their addictions: for example, antidepressants can be used to address depression, a major factor in substance abuse, addiction and relapse.
Choosing an Addiction Recovery Centre
Which addiction treatment facility will be right for you will depend very much upon your own circumstances and preferences. For example, you may wish to attend a facility relatively near your home, as this may reassure you that your loved ones are nearby, and help you focus upon your recovery; on the other hand you might prefer to go far away, putting as much distance as possible between you and the temptation represented by your daily environment. You may want specific elements of a treatment programme – perhaps some particular forms of therapy – which are only provided by certain facilities; or you may want to attend a given facility based on reputation, positive feedback and recommendations from others.
Whatever your situation and preferences, you should speak with an addiction specialist to discuss what you are looking to get out of treatment and which treatment options might be best for you before enrolling in any programme or rehab.
Relapse Prevention Planning
Relapse prevention is a crucial aspect of recovery; while relapse is not necessarily failure (many people struggling with addiction relapse at least once before achieving a successful recovery), it is dangerous because of the risks of both overdose and sliding back into addiction. Avoiding relapse can be made easier by having relapse prevention plans and strategies.
Avoiding triggers — the emotions, sensations and experiences that remind you of your addictive behaviour and make you want to engage in it again — is crucial; identifying them during therapy and recognising them when they occur can help you take steps to remove yourself from that situation.
Some ways to deal with the urge to relapse include: contacting a friend or a sponsor and talking it through with them; engaging in an activity to take your mind off the urges; visualising the consequences of your relapse; engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation; and making yourself wait for a set period (such as an hour) before reassessing the situation, during which time your cravings may subside.
If you attend rehab, you will draw up a relapse prevention plan prior to completing treatment, which will be revisited as part of aftercare.
Early Warning Signs
Recognising the signs of relapse as early as possible is key to avoiding it. Get to know the emotional states that typically result in cravings and obsessing about substance abuse, and pay attention to any signs such as growing stress, changing sleeping or eating habits, deviations from your recovery programme, tiredness and a general decrease of self-care, all of which can lead to a greater likelihood of relapse.
Self-Help Groups and 12-Step Groups
Many people in recovery attend self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (which both operate a 12-step programme) and others, often for long periods after they stop their substance abuse or addictive behaviour. The self-help groups operate across the country and typically meet once a week, providing users with companionship, advice and support; attendance is usually free, with the only criterion being a commitment to abstinence and a sober life.
Recovery Checklist for the First Year of Recovery
It can be useful to draw up a checklist of things to remember and to achieve during your first year of recovery. Some points on a recovery checklist might include:
- Accept and remind yourself every day that you have an addiction and that it can be overcome.
- Be continually honest and strive for decency in your life.
- Avoid risky situations.
- Attend self-help groups and meetings.
- Find a sponsor.
- Become healthier through better eating and sleeping habits and physical activity.
- Take up a hobby or hobbies.
- Work on strategies for being in problematic situations.
- Take time out to thank your loved ones and anyone else involved in your recovery.
- Share your experiences with others in your situation who can benefit from them.
- Set aside some time for charity or volunteer work.
- Make new friends and meet new people.
- Celebrate milestones (for example, one month clean, six months clean, etc.).
- Come to see yourself as a non-user.
Success Rate of Addiction Recovery
It is nearly impossible to say what proportion of individuals entering addiction recovery go on to achieve success. There are too many variables, and many people going into treatment do not report later on successes or failures. However, NHS statistics show that as recently as 2012, the best-performing treatment facilities were achieving successful recovery rates of anywhere between 60% and 80% (though the worst performers were barely achieving 20% success rates) in terms of the number of patients remaining abstinent for five years after treatment.
Aftercare is considered a critical component of recovery, as recovery is not complete simply because a treatment programme has been completed. Good treatment facilities will provide up to a year’s aftercare, drawing up a programme that includes outpatient visits, phone and email consultations and check-ins, therapy appointments, participation in 12-step or other support groups and regular checkpoints to discuss progress. The exact contents of an aftercare plan will differ from one facility to another; speak with an addiction specialist to find out about different aftercare structures.
Helping the User Recover Fully
Full recovery is not simply about stopping substance abuse or addictive behaviour but about learning to live life to the fullest again and keeping a happy and healthy outlook in order to create a successful future. Loved ones and friends can play an important role in helping this recovery. If someone close to you is struggling with addiction and embarking on or going through recovery, get in touch with an addiction specialist to find out ways you can assist in that recovery and help shape a better future for your loved one.
Get Help Today
If you are suffering from an addiction, the sooner you can acknowledge your condition and reach out for help, the sooner that help can be forthcoming. Speak with your GP and an addiction specialist today to find out about treatment options which might be available to you.
Take control of your life — get started on the road to recovery
No matter how long you have let addiction control your life, you can take back that control with professional help. Call your GP and addiction specialist and take first steps on the road to recovery and back to the healthy, happy and successful life you want and deserve.
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