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Recovery: It Goes Beyond Abstinence

For many people, the first and hardest thing to achieve is abstinence. If you quit drinking, then you are in recovery, isn’t that right? Treatment for addiction starts with abstinence, but recovery takes you many steps beyond that.

Pretreatment. You can actually enter into the pretreatment stages of recovery when you have a crisis that forces you to recognize the need for treatment. When you have an event that compels you to accept the idea of going into treatment for addiction of some kind, then you are in the pretreatment stage of the recovery process.

Stabilization. As you enter treatment, you will be abstinent from your drug of choice—from all drugs—and you will go through a period of detoxification. At this time your addiction treatment counselor will help you to recognize the patterns that lead you to use, but you will be focusing on stabilizing yourself both physically and psychologically. You can expect this phase to take up to 30 days.

Early Recovery. In this phase, you are still working on acceptance of the need for treatment and the importance of remaining abstinent. This is where you take an in-depth look at the way you are living your life and how alcohol or drugs is affecting it. This stage is when you acknowledge that you are an addict and you begin to consider the lifestyle changes that will be necessary for recovery. It may be discouraging to learn that this stage can take up to a year, but once you engage in it you will find that there is so much to learn. This is also the stage when your brain biochemistry will begin to restabilize.

Middle Recovery. You will not reach this stage until you accept the need for long-term treatment. It’s normal to feel very demoralized up to and including this stage, but your counselor can help you deal with negative thoughts and face the consequences of past behaviors. This is the stage at which you must face yourself honestly and accept that you truly need long-term help. You will be working many of the stages of the 12 Steps, and you will also formulate the beginning of a structured sobriety plan. It takes 6 months to a year to get through this stage.

Late Recovery. By the time you reach this stage you have stabilized the problems in your life that relate to drug or alcohol use. However, treatment for addiction also requires you to focus on other life problems that are not necessarily addiction-centered but which affect your everyday ability to function. Putting your life back in order is a huge part of eliminating future triggers. You will also learn to identify how drug-centered values are different from sobriety-centered values. From there you begin to create better coping and stress management skills that will strengthen you in all aspects of life. Your relationships with your family members will begin to heal, and you will see the path ahead of you for a normal life. It takes another year or two to center yourself and work your way through this penultimate stage.

Maintenance. By this stage your life is centered around sobriety. Your lifestyle is healthy and balanced. Remember that you may have difficulty reaching this stage because as you advance from simple abstinence to a well-thought-out recovery plan, there may be stumbles and relapses along the way. Maintenance for addicts is the same as maintenance for diabetics: It’s something you will have to work on your entire life. But by this stage, you will be sharing what you’ve learned with other addicts who have just entered the process of recovery. Treatment for addiction is an ongoing process that will take you to a healthful, productive lifestyle.

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