Being Understanding of a Loved One in Recovery

Understanding Loved One In Recovery

It’s frustrating to be an addict’s partner or close relative, and it’s okay to think, feel, and sometimes even say that. But it’s also important to put things in perspective, consider your partner’s circumstances, and understand both what it means to be an addict, and how demanding recovery can be.

Not all relationships survive an addiction. Whether you’re a parent with a child, an adult with an addicted relative, a best friend, or a life partner, an addiction can and often will do damage to any and all of these relationships. Relationships are built on trust, and most people with an addiction will do one or more things to erode and undermine said trust while addicted. This doesn’t magically change once your loved one is sober – it can take weeks, months, or even years for a person to feel confident in their sobriety and the life they’ve made for themselves after addiction. It can take just as long to completely regain someone’s trust. But if you are both willing to take the tough steps to get there, it will be worth it in the end.


Recovery Is Hard

No one can completely empathize with the struggle of recovery without going through something similar, but you can still understand what it might mean. Imagine relying on something to function like a basic human being, until it begins to eat away at you and bring your life to its knees. Then, you must learn not only to live without it, but to live successfully without it – a task you might have struggled with before that thing came into your life to begin with.

Couple that with emotional instability, new environments, common feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing, and a strong craving for another fix, almost like thirst or hunger. Recovery, especially early on, is grueling and testing. Drug-free environments like sober living homes and rehab facilities can help make the process of going sober safer and more effective, by circumventing the relapses that are often common in the first few weeks of sobriety. Even so, over half of all people who go through a recovery program relapse within the first 12 months after the program has ended.

Recovery is hard because addiction is pervasive and takes time to overcome. More than just a matter of the mind, it can accurately be described as a brain disease. Physical dependence to a drug does not remove a person’s ability to choose not to take the drug, but it heavily influences the odds against them.

We are simply wired to listen to our brain – our instincts are integral to keeping us alive, and certain things, like a craving for food, the will to procreate, or the allure of someone attractive, or instant and instinctual. Drugs manipulate a lot of the brain’s pathways related to things we find naturally rewarding, and for a long time after someone stops using, those same pathways continue to be preoccupied with the thought of another fix. Understanding that recovery is hard is an important first step to supporting your loved one.


Recovery Takes A While

The first step in most recovery programs is to get someone off the drugs and help them go through the immediate events that follow. Heavy drug use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which are a collection of physical and mental symptoms caused by the abrupt end of drug use. Some symptoms are caused by a host of underlying problems previously numbed by the drug use. Others are caused by the brain effectively ‘recalibrating’.

After the withdrawal symptoms end, drug addicts go through recovery at their own pace. A person’s success in recovery doesn’t depend so much on their willingness to stay sober as it does on their ability to adapt. Some people transition into sober living very quickly – others take longer. There is no good way to tell how long it might take for sobriety to ‘sink in’, but some people consider a full year spent completely sober a good goal.

Rather than think of a set time, consider more abstract criteria. Recovery is successful when an addict feels they no longer need to fear a relapse, and when they’ve established a lifestyle they are content with, with a variety of ways to deal with stress in the event that they ever feel the need to use again.

Because this process can take a while, it’s important to be aware of the potential bumps and challenges along the way. It’s not a steady path forward – there will be struggles and unexpected difficulties. Working together to overcome them won’t be easy, but it’s the only way for a relationship to survive an addiction. It’s okay to feel frustrated, but don’t consider your loved one a failure for relapsing when things get tough. Help them find the courage to try again, and the confidence to believe in their chances at a lasting sober life, despite prior setbacks.


Addicts Need Compassion

Tough love will not work. While it might not seem that way, addiction is often coupled with feelings of guilt and shame rather than any sense of smugness. Even if they try to hide it, a lot of addicts are deeply depressed and fear that they’ll never improve. Negative reinforcement – or ‘tough love’ – is more likely to make things worse, rather than help them reach the mindset they need to truly make progress.

Compassion is an important component in helping an addict improve on their condition. Addiction is not a moral shortcoming, or a reason to belittle someone – it’s a condition that needs treatment. And as your loved one’s partner, relative, or friend, it’s important that you provide support for that treatment. To an extent.


Draw the Line

There will be moments of frustration, irritation, and even genuine anger. There will be sadness. And it will not be easy. But understand where to draw the line. Supporting an addict in their recovery also means avoiding anything that might enable them and being strict about behavior that counts as emotional and/or physical abuse.

If an addict continuously fails to stay sober and is almost immediately back on their old habit after every treatment, it’s time to pull out. Consider not ending the relationship, but instead putting more responsibility on the addict’s shoulders. It’s on them to decide how to live now, and it cannot be on you to continue to look after them. After a certain point, caring for an addict begins to take its toll to such an extent that it damages your own mental health.

If you feel you are no longer capable to help, make it clear that you’ve had enough. Draw a line, set your boundaries, and stick to them – for your own good, and for the good of your loved one.

The Warning Signs of Relapse

Warning Signs of Relapse

A drug relapse occurs when a recovering addict starts using again. In the simplest terms, that is all a relapse entails. But relapses happen to people for different reasons, and most of the time, they can be prevented. Relapses are also not a sign of weakness.

Many recovering addicts fail to internalize (or haven’t even heard) that as many as 90 percent of all people who go through the recovery process experience at least one relapse before achieving lasting recovery (defined usually as several years of abstinence). In fact, over half of all recovering addicts relapse within one year after their first recovery program – it’s important to note that that is after their recovery program, not during or before.

Of course, understanding what a relapse means is different from accepting it as normal or correct behavior. The whole point of getting sober is to stay sober and avoid relapses. While the first few are to be expected, it’s also easy to get trapped in a constant cycle of relapses and sobriety attempts, without really learning why relapses occur, or taking the proper measures to ensure they don’t happen again.


Recognizing the Warning Signs

The first step to coming back stronger after a relapse is being okay with the mistake you’ve made and rededicating yourself to sobriety. Before anything else, you must understand that a stumble doesn’t eliminate you from the race. You can get back up and keep on working towards your goal. Then, it’s time to completely and effectively reflect on what happened and try to make the most of the experience in a positive way.

Relapses are very emotional and troubling. They usually begin in the mind, through thoughts and feelings of doubt, worries and internal anxieties, struggles with what it means to be sober and whether all this fighting and struggling is worth it. These feelings are normal to a point, but when they become overwhelming, the next stop is usually a relapse. The urge to use again and the inner hunger to return to old habits can sometimes be overpowering, especially in the face of overwhelming external stressors. Some of the warning signs to consider include:

  • Increasingly erratic emotions.
  • Increasingly abrasive/irritable, harder to control temper.
  • Easily distracted, hard time concentrating.
  • Emotionally pre-occupied with negative thoughts, including depressive thoughts or anxious thoughts/fears.
  • Worrying excessively about a relapse, day in and day out.
  • Other sudden behavior changes.
  • Losing faith/lack of faith in recovery programs, increased cynicism.
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies, no new developing interests.
  • Robotic/dispassionate pursuit of day-to-day activities.
  • Depressive declarations/thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • Low energy/constant lack of sleep.
  • Insomnia/unable to rest.

Many of the warning signs of relapse are similar to the warning signs of depression, and the two are often intertwined. What relates one to the other is the lack of hope and constant negative thinking.


Consider Asking for Help

You do not have to wait for a relapse to occur to confirm your fears. If you realize that your behavior lately has been erratic, uncontrolled, or otherwise in line with some of the other warning signs listed above, it would be smart to consider getting professional help. A therapist or psychiatrist experienced with addiction medicine can get you the psychological assistance you need to not only get through this but work on developing ways to feel an oncoming potential relapse and stop it dead in its tracks. Your ability to prevent relapses hinges on your willingness to rely on others and work with them (and yourself) to take a breath, gain perspective, and figure out the best way to not give into the urge to use again.

Another option is to sign into a sober living home. Like rehab facilities, sober living homes are drug-free zones, heavily enforced to keep all residents safe from drug use. And unlike rehab, you get to stay as long as you want to, with no set program. Sober living homes are ideal for recovering addicts who feel they may be at risk for relapsing, and just need a place to stay for a while where they won’t try to get their hands on anything.


What Counts as A Relapse?

Some might ask themselves if it’s ever okay to use drugs without actually relapsing. The difference between using and relapsing is the control. If you can use a drug without losing control over how you use it and how much of it you use, you haven’t relapsed into an addicted state.

However, realistically, this just isn’t feasible for most people. In fact, almost all recovering addicts should vehemently oppose the idea of using again, in ‘moderation’. The body and brain remember what it was like to be addicted, and after an addiction passes and the body and brain recover from drug use, they become much more susceptible to the effects of a drug – especially if you start using again at the same pace as just before your initial treatment. Some people have reported quitting drinking and eventually going back to drinking responsibly, but it’s very rare and not at all worth the risk. You’re simply opening yourself up to a full relapse into uncontrollable and chaotic addiction.

As such, a relapse counts as any amount of drug use that puts you back in an addicted state – struggling to control your behavior, driven by the need to satisfy and chase your high, and using drugs to cover up any underlying pain or suffering you may be struggling with.


Why It’s Okay to Relapse and Keep Going

A relapse is not a failure, and it doesn’t spell doom for your recovery or indicate that your recovery program is ineffective. As mentioned previously, don’t try to see your relapse as a sign that you’ve failed – see it as a sign that your recovery isn’t complete yet, and there are still a few major obstacles you have to cover.

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of time. It simply takes a certain amount of time spent sober for the body and brain to readjust and get over the cravings, to a certain degree. Sometimes, relapses give us insight into weaknesses we may still have – triggers and emotional problems that need to be dealt with before the recovery can be ‘complete’.

Getting Over the Stigma of Recovery to Get the Help You Need

Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction

It’s hard to treat addiction. It’s also hard to find addiction treatment. There’s no denying that – over 80 percent of people who are potentially eligible for a heroin addiction don’t get the help they need for their addiction. Many of them try to find help, but find that they aren’t eligible, financially or otherwise. If they lack the cash, they may seek out not-for-profit treatment centers or government-run centers, which reject applicants with a history of mental health issues or a history of crime. Then, there are those who do make it through treatment – over half of who eventually relapse within the first year after rehab and go right back to the start.

Thankfully this may change soon, but there are still other issues in the way. While many are genuinely in denial and don’t think they need help for their addiction, there are many Americans who can’t afford to get the help they do need. And when they do finally get the opportunity for treatment, they find that the commitment – whether that means staying in a residential treatment facility or heading to a treatment clinic at least thrice a week – is too much for their busy working schedule, which is necessary to help support the family.

A substantial number of Americans fear that if they get the help they need, they will lose their job, the respect of those they know, and their reputation. They fear the stigma and repercussions surrounding addiction, and they may think that if they keep their use under control (which they cannot), then everything will be fine.

Money, fear, and time – these are the primary reasons Americans don’t get the help they need, and the stress and pain of it all further feeds their problems. However, the alternative is much worse: long-term addiction, leading to potentially fatal overdoses, broken relationships, debt, a dying career, and worse.

Treatment is worth it, and the sooner an addiction is addressed, the better. No addiction expert believes that an addict needs to hit rock bottom before things get better – all an addict has to do is believe they need help and ask for it. Before that can happen, however, an addict may have to overcome the fear surrounding the decision to go into treatment.


The Stigma Surrounding Addiction

Addiction is still largely misunderstood. There are plenty people who believe what addicts need most is some tough love and the metaphorical crack of a whip as motivation. We’ve tried treating addiction through decades of incarceration, but the data then and the data now was always the same: it doesn’t work. Addicts are often aware that they’re destroying their lives. They’re often aware they’re hurting others. It’s not that they don’t care – it’s that they can’t stop. And that eats them up inside, which leads to a dark and slippery slope towards death.

No one chooses addiction. People choose drugs – but they don’t choose addiction. And once they’re addicted, the only choice they can make is to get help. When that help doesn’t work, they need the mental state to keep going, and to try again. Without the support of friends and family to convince them to go through with it all, many give up. Others stay sober for decades, but slip up due to one mental break, and accidentally end their lives.


Overcoming Stigma

Every case of addiction is its own little tragedy, and wrath and judgment will do nothing to help the millions of Americans struggling with substance use disorders. However, you can’t go and change the opinion of every American who maintains that addiction is a choice, and the only treatment is discipline. Instead, you have to move past that stigma, and realize that the only way to get better is to seek out help despite what other people might think of you, and despite the possibility that even after months, you’ll have to go through the process again at what feels like square one.

That’s because it isn’t square one. Every relapse feels like a failure, but it isn’t a failure. Not if you turn it into something else. Relapses are opportunities to learn more about yourself and your addiction, to figure out why they happened, and how you can prevent them. In the immediate aftermath of a relapse, there’s little time for reflection and calm collected thinking – but give yourself a chance, and understand that relapsing after treatment is common, and not a sign of failure, but a fact of addiction recovery.

From there, continue treatment. Don’t see it as a restart – see it as a continuation. And don’t stop. The relapses will end soon, and you’ll feel ‘in control’. That’s a dangerous feeling, because life isn’t something we can control. But it’s the first step towards learning to live a normal life again, before learning to let go of the anxiety and fear around relapses, and instead simply focus on the things that make you happy, keep you sober, and allow you to live your life without battling with your old habits.


Addiction Treatment Works

Addiction treatment is not a quick-fix pill or a cookie-cutter program – it’s a tailor-made plan built around you, as per the experience and expertise of people who dedicate their lives towards helping addicts live better ones.

For some, the crux of treatment is getting to live in a place without drugs, while a therapist helps you unravel the pain and misery of your childhood, as you rediscover your passion for sports and take on the goal of running a marathon. For others, it’s working diligently on your recovery while keeping your eyes on your job, taking time off work to get clean so you can make the strides in your career that you’ve always wanted to make. For some, it’s being a better parent and sticking to each step of the plan in order to overcome your addiction.

The core of every case of addiction treatment is a highly personal, highly effective motivator. For many coming in for the first time, motivation might even be an alien concept. Depressive thinking and anxiety are common among drug addicts, and hopelessness is a popular state of mind. It takes a few weeks of sobriety and the right kind of therapeutic support to get into the headspace to look at the bright side of the future and realize that you might still have a lot more life left in you than you thought.


Continuing to Break Stigma After Recovery

Addiction treatment is something you do have to choose, and it’s something you have to do on your own. But there’s not a moment when you’re not surrounded by help. Whether it’s professional help or the love and support of your friends and/or family, every case of successful addiction recovery is ultimately a team effort. You make it through because those who care about you want you to, because they show you that they care, because they give you the reason you need to keep going.

And you can be there for someone else, too. Continue to break stigma by helping recovering addicts see that there is a path forward, by continuing to visit local meetings, meeting new people, and speaking about your experiences and challenges. While every story is different, a new and unique perspective can be just what someone else might need to convince themselves to stay committed to sobriety that day. And the next. And the next.


Is It Possible to Reverse the Effects of Addiction?

Reverse the Effects of Addiction

Addiction treatment can go a long way to give someone their old life back – but more importantly, it ventures to help people give themselves a chance at a completely new, and better life.

Sometimes, however, things are broken during addiction that can’t be fixed. The repercussions of addiction are not always reversible. To understand what can and can’t be changed through addiction treatment, you have to know how addiction affects the mind, body, and brain.

One thing is for sure: addiction can be treated. And, with proper care and support, you can life a fulfilling life without relapsing. That being said, there are serious long-term side effects to recurring drug use – and not all of them can be reversed.


The Short and Long-Term Effects of Addiction

In short, drug use alters the brain temporarily. This change is reinforced through repeated use and leads to addiction. Other effects that are common are rising drug tolerance (the drug loses effectiveness) and withdrawal symptoms when sober (as the system tries to adjust and recuperate after the changes introduced by recurring drug use).

Drugs have different effects, both in the brain and in the rest of the human body. Alcohol, for example, is a carcinogen and is metabolized by the liver into acetaldehyde. Most of the acetaldehyde is then eliminated from the body. During the process, the liver is damaged. Long-term alcohol use can lead to permanent liver damage (liver cirrhosis), greatly increased risk of cancer throughout the body, as well as long-term to permanent damage to the brain.

Meanwhile, methamphetamine is neurotoxic and damages the serotonergic pathways in the brain, potentially leading to anhedonia – the growing inability to feel pleasure. Meth is also a powerful stimulant, causing loss of appetite, straining the heart, and increasing the risk of stroke (when blood is no longer flowing into the brain, causing brain damage and death).

The most common short-term effect of drug use is a high. But in high dosages, drugs can cause an overdose. Not all overdoses cause death, but they do greatly damage the body and leave a lasting effect. For example, a heroin overdose can potentially leave a person paralyzed or brain damaged due to oxygen deprivation.

Some drugs are harder to overdose on alone – like anti-anxiety medication – but in combination with another drug (alcohol, for example), the effects of both drugs combine and create a very potent and deadly mixture. Most street drugs are also cut and mixed with additives, including fentanyl in the case of heroin. Fentanyl is responsible for a serious rise in heroin overdoses in the last few years, due to its extreme potency.

In the long-term, drugs still kill – but slower. Long-term drug use causes a steady decrease in grey matter, leaving a person less capable of critical thinking, problem solving, risk assessment, and other cognitive functions. Meanwhile, addiction itself can lead to other health issues including malnutrition, sexually-transmitted diseases, IV drug-related diseases, rapid weight loss/weight gain, as well as cuts and lesions caused by incessant scratching and poor hygiene.

Some of these effects can be reversed – others cannot. This depends largely on the cause of the damage, the extent of the damage, and where the damage is. While drugs affect the body, mind, and brain, addiction begins in the mind and brain.


The Psychological Effects of Addiction

Addiction leaves a person more likely to struggle with another mental disorder. Long-term addiction can also expose a person to traumatic incidents and serious long-term emotional damage. However, most of the emotional effects of addiction are reversible with family support, professional counseling, and a long-term commitment to therapy.

Addiction itself is never necessarily ‘cured’, but it’s possible to go a whole lifetime without relapsing after a certain point. That ‘point’ is different for everyone, and the road to getting there – achieving comfort and confidence in sobriety – is different for every recovering addict.


The Neurological Effects of Addiction

Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, meth, tobacco – these are all wildly different drugs, but they all have something in common: long-term use robs a person of cognitive capacity and slowly but surely changes and damages the brain. This accounts for loss of risk-assessment and increased risk taking, as well as general decreases in cognitive function. However, the good news is that this damage can be reversed.

Long-term research shows that abstinence and recovery help the mind and the brain recover from addiction. There are exceptions, of course. Damage done to the brain through oxygen deprivation or blood deprivation (stroke) cannot be reversed. When parts of the brain die, they can’t come back. The brain exhibits extreme amounts of plasticity, however, allowing it to rework sections of existing tissue to increase cognitive function. That being said, paralysis caused by severe cerebral hypoxia isn’t something that time can heal.


The Physical Effects of Addiction

Damage to your organs through drug use can be largely reversed through medical treatment, a good diet, and lots of time. However, there are cases when addiction can lead to extensive organ damage and eventual organ failure, requiring a transplant or medical intervention (such as dialysis in the case of kidney failure).

Whether or not the damage done to the body through drug use can be reversed depends on what kind of damage it is.

For example, IV drugs can cause rhabdomyolysis, which is a syndrome of symptoms caused by muscle fiber death and renal failure due to dead tissue in the bloodstream. Unless treated soon, this can cause a painful death. Meanwhile, opioid overuse can at times cause hyperalgesia – an increased sensitivity to pain, including chronic pain. Opioid-induced hyperalgesia may go away with reduced use or must be treated with a non-opioid painkiller.

The way your body responds to any given drug is highly individual. Meanwhile, indirect damage to the body caused by drug use (such as injuries suffered from a car accident) may or may not be permanent.


Get Help

Life is worth living to the fullest, and the sooner a person seeks help for their addiction, the more of life they’re likely to enjoy. As fun as the ride might seem while it lasts, the long-term repercussions of severe drug use are nowhere near worth any time spent being addicted.

There is no good reason not to seek out help. Going cold turkey alone and trying to stay sober is not a good game plan, making a relapse highly likely. Meanwhile, withdrawal symptoms are often not just uncomfortable, but can be fatal in the case of alcohol and other depressants. Having medical professionals present while going through withdrawal and detox can save a life.

Drug rehab exists for the well-off and the less fortunate alike, and addiction doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can get addicted for a wide variety of reasons, regardless of willpower, moral compass, or overall happiness. Addiction is not something people openly choose, and it isn’t a condemnation of immoral actions – it’s a brain disease caused by interactions between the brain and the overuse of certain substances, alongside factors such as psychiatric health and frequency of drug use. And like other brain diseases, addiction needs to be treated by a trained professional, with time, and if needed, medication.

Regardless of whether you or someone you love is addicted, convincing them to seek out help is critical. While not all effects of addiction can be reversed, life is still best spent sober and in good health than struggling with addiction day in and day out.

Mental Health Issues That Commonly Accompany Addiction

De-Stressing After Addiction

Addiction and other mental health issues often go hand-in-hand, for several reasons. It’s important to understand that in a lot of cases, people who struggle with one mental illness may also struggle with symptoms pertaining to another mental illness, or they may have several codependent diagnoses. Addiction is considered a mental health issue by the DSM (Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a book that generally reflects the opinion of most mental health professionals on the subject of what is and is not a mental health issue.

Mental illnesses begin in the brain, either as a result of external factors (factors such as nutrition, trauma, chronic stress, abuse, brain injury, tumors, hormonal irregularities, poisoning, and more), or internal factors (genetics and prenatal health conditions, including illnesses and viruses plaguing a pregnant mother). Both addiction and other mental health problems are often the effect of these factors, in one way or another.

Although many might argue that this takes personal responsibility out of the equation, the overwhelming majority of addiction cases don’t begin with a person willingly wanting to be an addict. Education and healthcare play a greater role in preventing and treating addiction than most people realize – and by identifying addiction as a mental health issue, more people can come to terms with understanding that addicts need treatment and compassion, rather than an approach that prioritizes incarceration and heavy judgment. Mental health and addiction go hand-in-hand – both need to be treated together, and either one can help cause or amplify the other.


Depression and Addiction

Depression is arguably one of the more common disorders diagnosed alongside an addiction. Characterized as a consistent low mood for more than two weeks without any apparent or reasonable cause, depression is set apart from normal episodes of sadness and sorrow by the fact that it often has no clear “normal” cause, such as loss or grief, and the fact that it can last for a very long time.

Sometimes, depression drives people to drink or use other drugs to cope with the empty or lonely feeling of being depressed, while on the other hand, it’s the effects and consequences of addiction that eventually leave some people feeling depressed and hopeless, to the point that they develop a clinical depression.


Anxiety and Addiction

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health issues in the United States, with anxiety being somewhat more prevalent. Anxiety disorders manifest in a wide variety of ways, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias, as well as PTSD and panic disorder.

Anxiety is characterized by fear, worry, and unease at inappropriate times or in excessive levels. Someone with an anxiety disorder may fear a certain situation or may constantly play out worst-case-scenarios in their mind despite no indication of any danger, or no particular reason for worry. They may experience hyperventilation and symptoms mimicking a heart attack during a panic attack, and they may feel extreme dread when facing a particular situation, such as having to enter a small space or speak in front of a crowd.

These extreme fears can be diminished and controlled through the use of anti-anxiety medication, which can be addictive, as well as alcohol, which mimics sedatives such as benzodiazepine (Xanax, Valium, etc.) by lowering inhibitions and cutting away at fears.


Addiction and Other Mental Health Issues

People with other mental health issues, including PTSD, OCD, personality disorders as well as body image disorders such as dysmorphia and anorexia may turn to drug use as a way to cope with their symptoms, feeling as though the euphoric feelings caused by drug use help them with their disorder.


Why Mental Health Issues Accompany Addiction

Drug use changes the way the brain works slightly. While all drugs are psychotropic in some shape or form, some of them are addictive. Using addictive drugs can be helpful in the treatment of certain illnesses and diseases – including terminal pain management, ADHD, and anxiety – but misusing a prescription or taking the drugs illegally for recreational purposes can lead to a physical dependence on the drug.

The brain begins to crave the drug as a way to maintain a newfound “normal” high, imposing withdrawal symptoms whenever usage is stopped, while reinforcing use with more cravings and thoughts of recurring drug use. It becomes harder and harder to stop the more a person takes the drug, and some drugs are more addictive than others.

This can lead to a variety of problems. People who are addicted to drugs tend to feel self-loathing, regret, self-deprecation, and anger. They tend to seek out drug use not only because they crave the high, but because it masks the pain they feel when sober. This is an emotional addiction, wherein drug use is not only reinforced by what the brain wants, but by what the mind needs as a way to cope with all the problems introduced before or after the drug use began.

Heavy drug use also has a series of other side effects, both physical and mental, including tardiness, aberrant sleep schedules, poor hygiene, skin problems, malnutrition, rapid weight gain/loss, and other issues contributing to a lower quality of life, loss of employment, broken relationships, and a decaying social life. All this heavily contributes to a person’s state of mind, pushing them to avoid living out a real life and seeking drugs either to feel better, or to “end it all”.

If addiction began as a way to cope with a pre-existing problem – such as an abusive relationship, sexual trauma, problems at work or school, or chronic stress from an inescapable situation – then it can amplify these problems and speed up the development of a mental health issue arising as a result of stress, including anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, PTSD, and more.

If someone has a genetic predisposition towards a certain mental health issue, drug use may cause them to get to the point where they trigger this issue, and let it grow and develop into a diagnosable disorder.

Furthermore, addiction can put someone in a situation where they engage in needlessly risky behavior, due to lowered inhibitions and a decreased capacity for critical thinking. This can lead to a number of physical consequences, including infectious diseases from unprotected sex, as well as injuries caused by accidents while under the influence. These can leave a lasting mental effect on someone with a history of drug abuse, including emotional scarring that takes years to properly process.


Chicken and Egg

Addiction and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are ultimately intertwined in such a way that it’s hard for doctors and patients alike to properly identify which caused the other, and which came first. Either way, treatment has to address both. Treating a dual diagnosis – wherein someone struggles with a diagnosable mental health issue and an addiction – requires a program that addresses both usually through a combination of dedicated residential treatment, therapy with an experienced psychiatrist, and the use of non-addictive psychiatric medication, including antidepressants.

New Year’s Resolution 2019: Kick the Addiction

Happy New Year For Recovery

We’re drawing close to the end of 2018 – and with that comes the inevitability of 2019. For some, especially those prone to counting their days while sober, the passage of time is something of a blessing. Because with each passing minute, hour, day and week, you put more and more distance between yourself and the last time you drink.

It’s not easy. Most people struggle with it. It’s common for someone to relapse within their first year after a recovery program, and the theory that addiction is chronic has grown in merit over the last few years. But that doesn’t mean addiction can’t be vanquished. You just have to adjust your understanding of what that might mean.

You can live an entirely sober life, and never have another drop of booze or announce of any drug. But there’s no such thing as achieving victory over addiction, or completely eliminating the urge to use again. You can suppress it when it comes back up or spend so much time sober that you no longer really care for your addiction, except for the moments when things get really tough, and you involuntarily think about it.

But we need goals and victories. That is precisely why New Year’s resolutions are so important. You can’t spend forever on a one-way road, endlessly spinning your wheels for no reason. But you can stay on that road if you’re getting things done on the way. Accomplishments are how you’re really going to place walls between yourself and your past as an addict. If your goal is to kick the addiction, you’ll have to redefine said goal.


Sobriety Isn’t A Goal

Sobriety is not drinking, and that’s a goal anyone in any drug-free sober living environment or rehab facility completes within the first day or so of arriving. It doesn’t take long for a high to wear off, and by the drugs are completely out of the bloodstream and you’re fighting off withdrawal symptoms, your goal is technically complete. Meanwhile, you can’t erase what you’ve done or what you’ve experienced, and your addiction will always be a part of who you are, in the sense that you’ll remember what it felt like, and some part of you will miss it.

These realities don’t in any way contradict the goal of living a sober life. But even that goal is difficult to set, because it’s a lifelong goal. It’s hard for us really motivate ourselves by goals that are only really achieved in death. We need smaller goals to define our lifelong journey, centered around or to do with our newfound sobriety – but not the sobriety itself.

To start kicking your addiction to the curb, you have to consider this: what can you do this 2019 to set it apart from every other year you’ve spent in this world? How can you tell yourself and everyone you know by 2020 that you’ve turned your life around? What would it take to convince yourself that, despite months or years of drug use, you really don’t need to be high or drunk ever again? That’s what you start with.


Set Up Your Realistic Goals

New Year’s resolutions need to be realistic and achievable, otherwise we find ourselves staring at a list filled with hopelessness by the end of January, before throwing it out by March at the latest. Being vague or not having any sense of direction is also useless, because goals are meant to be precise. It should be something you can picture yourself achieving, not in an abstract way, but in a tangible way.

Don’t write about “making it” or “finding success” or “being a better person”. Challenge yourself to land a job that you can hold for more than a year, or to lose a very specific amount of weight, or finish a project you’ve been trying to work on for years now – or anything else that allows you to commit to something for the whole year.

Then, pick smaller goals that you can knock off along the way. Whether that means making it to one of your kid’s plays or fixing a relationship or learning how to do something you’ve never done before, pick things that you can do within a timeframe of less than a year.


Pick One, Set a Date

Deadlines are important. Deadlines and schedules help us add structure to our day-to-day, while maintaining a general sense of what’s ahead for us in the coming weeks, months, or years. Regardless of whether it’s you or a sober living community who is doing the scheduling, having deadlines gives you a very tangible timeframe of when you’re supposed to do something, which is important in recovery.

People in recovery tend to have a lot of time on their hands early on, and that can lead to boredom, which is not a good idea for a recovering addict. Keeping yourself busy is one of the best ways to stop yourself from using again. But it isn’t just about idle hands – it’s primarily about idle minds. Giving yourself a vision for the day, the week, the month, and the year also gives you concrete goals and moments to look forward to, instead of something like “stay sober for a year”. Rather than ask yourself “how?”, you can focus on doing things within said year that make you feel accomplished, rewarding you for the newfound time management and focus you can only achieve thanks to staying clean.

Being sober becomes a reward in and of itself, because it offered you the opportunity to get things done over the months and years during which you’ve been drug-free. And that should be the theme of your 2019 – making your sobriety mean something.

This is why the New Year is always an inspiring time for people facing the challenge of long-term sobriety. Don’t just make it your goal not to do drugs – make it your goal to do other things, and enjoy the feeling of being an accomplished, productive person thanks to the fact that you’re completely sober, and committed to it.


What Are the Best Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with the Change to Sobriety?

Sobriety Coping Mechanisms

If there’s anything to be said for drugs and alcohol, it’s that they take the edge off. Most people start using drugs not with the intention of ruining their lives or succumbing to addiction, but because it felt like a good idea at the time – either because everyone else was doing it, and it felt good, or because people sometimes find themselves in places of great hurt and need things that feel good.

Despite the fact that drugs and alcohol take the edge off, they also make you pay a terrible price over time – addiction. There’s nothing glamorous or debatably cool about addiction. It starts as a nightmare and ends as a tragedy.

Thankfully, some people get the help they need. And once they do, they find the strength to get sober and stay sober. But it isn’t easy. And once the drugs are gone and the booze doesn’t flow anymore, there’s nothing to take off the edge. Worse yet, addiction tends to sharpen the edge and make it cut deeper than you ever thought possible. For many, this turns early sobriety into a living hell, enough to force most to relapse very early on.

Without anything to take off the edge, you’re not going to stay sober for any significant length of time. That’s where adaptive coping mechanisms come into play.


What Are Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are central to everyday life. They might sound like a form of treatment specifically prescribed to people struggling with great traumas, but the reality is that we all need coping mechanisms, and most of us seek them out one way or another. Having a little nightcap after a stressful day, hitting the boxing gym to keep yourself in check, going out with friends after getting dumped, reliving old memories through pictures and music after losing someone we love – we all cope with stressors in life, both big and small, by seeking out comfort and reassurance, by seeking out strength and self-determination, by seeking out the memories of a time when things were better.

Some coping mechanisms are adaptive. Some are maladaptive. In other words, there are good ways and bad ways to cope. Drugs and alcohol are effective, but they’re maladaptive. They help you feel better for a time, bit instead of actually helping you improve your situation or process your pain, they simply add onto your growing list of personal problems.

Some coping mechanisms are both maladaptive and adaptive depending on the situation. We may cope by memorializing our loved one and moving on after processing their loss through cherished memories and loving gestures. Or we become hung up on their loss, letting it rule our lives, putting us deeper into a depressive hole with no sight of an exit.

To stay sober, you need a list of clear, healthy, adaptive coping mechanisms. Not one, or two, but three or more. Things you can do to take off the edge, improve your life, improve your health, improve your relationships, find your way, redefine yourself as a new sober person, and make great strides towards a permanently drug-free life. We’re going to cover three basic groups – physical coping mechanisms, social coping mechanisms, and mental coping mechanisms.


Physical Coping Mechanisms

These are ways to use your body to work off stress. Exercise is an obvious choice, but not everyone enjoys hitting the gym – and many people struggle to do so consistently.

Pick a physical hobby that you will actually enjoy, something you can commit to as a healthy, physical activity to expend excess energy, vent out a little, and generally feel better and lighter afterwards. Movement and exertion, not exercise, is ultimately what helps us release endorphins and feel good. Bonus points if you’re having fun, because that helps even more.

Think dancing, climbing, lifting, sprinting, boxing, wrestling, running, kettlebell sports, biking, curling, fencing, tennis, ping pong, and more.


Social Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are ways to deal with stress, so a “social coping mechanism” might sound confusing. But it makes a little more sense when you think of it as “healthy activity you can have with friends”.

Avoid activities where you barely end up talking much to each other, as well as activities where you might be pressured to drink or use, like visiting a loud club, heading to the movies, or going to a concert. Focus on activities that are fun and bonding, like hiking, escape rooms, video or board game night, coffee and cake tasting, restaurant-hopping, or team sports.


Mental Coping Mechanisms

These are coping mechanisms that help you put your mind at ease, especially when you’re feeling anxious or craving. These are, in essence, distractions you can use to keep yourself from remaining fixated on your own inner cravings. To prevent these from just becoming media consumption, focus on constructive coping mechanisms. For example, instead of just listening to music, pick up an easy instrument and try to learn how to play your favorite songs.

Instead of just reading a book, try journaling or a short story based on your inner turmoil, even if you don’t plan to have anyone ever read it. Instead of watching a movie, draw or paint something – don’t be too worried about how it’ll come out, just let your imagination and raw emotions guide you.


The Old You Is Gone

Don’t be afraid to completely redefine your life, and who you are. Addiction changes you fundamentally, and sometimes causes you to do and say things you’ll never be able to come back. You may find yourself recovering from addiction deeply regretting a great number of things, finding yourself in a place you’ve never really planned to be in.

Instead of dwelling on that, you have to adapt. Drug recovery is an opportunity to completely change yourself and take a step in a better direction – and it starts by tearing down everything about you that you don’t like during recovery and working meticulously to build it up again. Don’t fall for preconceived notions of character – you can be whoever you want to be and turning over a new leaf is something we’re allowed to do day after day, and not only after traumatic events.

Feel free to try new things out, delve into uncomfortable and unfamiliar new hobbies and topics, explore different communities and perspectives on life, and work on both new relationships and salvaging old ones. Life has its fair share of stresses and struggles, but ultimately you should be doing more than just coping. You should be living.


The Negative Health Effects of Addiction

Negative effects of addiction

There’s absolutely no doubt in most people’s mind that addiction is a bad thing. Yet many cannot quantify why. Some say that getting hooked on drugs will rot your brain – but that’s only half the story, if that. Long term drug use will lead to the total deterioration of your physical and mental health, beginning with the brain and continuing throughout the body. If an overdose won’t kill you, then it’s likely that any one of several other possible diseases and organ failures will.

Worse yet, addiction doesn’t only affect one single individual. Some may defend their behavior and say that it’s their choice to stay addicted – but in doing so, they place others in harm’s way, often to the point of causing major and potentially fatal damage. Drug use is never a good idea – and by knowing exactly how it takes the body and mind apart, we can better educate ourselves and our children on why it isn’t worth the risk.


Drug Use and Physical Damage

Different drugs lead to different forms of disease, mostly because drugs are either toxic to begin with, or because the addiction leads to tolerance, which leads to greater and greater dosages.

Stimulants like amphetamine and cocaine typically lead to a greater risk of heart damage, heart disease, and strokes, while depressive drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepine, as well as opioids, can lead to respiratory arrest, oxygen deprivation, and memory loss. Inhaling methamphetamine or crack cocaine can cause dental damage, and gum damage. These drugs also attack the liver, because it works hard to process and metabolize the drugs. Alcohol can lead to a fatty liver and eventually cause liver cirrhosis, or liver scarring.

Nicotine, usually in the form of cigarettes, presents a great risk for lung cancer, because of the carcinogenic chemicals found in cigarettes and tobacco in general.


Drug Use and Mental Damage

It’s clear that addiction changes the way the brain works – but besides that, it also impairs the mind and affects the way people think. Addiction correlates with a higher likelihood of mental illness, not just because people with mental illness are more likely to use drugs to self-medicate, but because drug use can lead to depression and self-loathing, suicidal thought, and trigger other mood disorders, personality disorders, or possible mental health issues.

Besides mental health diagnoses, addiction also eats into the grey matter of the brain, reducing cognitive function and awareness, cutting into memory, and impairing an individual’s ability to consider risks, think into the future, and inhibit their actions. This can lead to more impulsive and destructive behavior, as well as less empathic and more selfish behavior. Occasionally, drug use can become so severe that it makes a person more violent. Methamphetamine is a particularly troubling drug for the mind, as it is neurotoxic and can affect the brain’s ability to process serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.


Health Impact on Others

While addiction takes its toll on individuals physically and mentally, it has quite the impact on those living around an addict, as well.

Risk of birth defects – the use of drugs, from nicotine to alcohol to opioids, can lead to major complications and health problems in pregnant women and their unborn children, causing a range of disease including fetal alcohol syndrome, neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal in newborn babies), and more. Drugs can also make their way into a mother’s breastmilk, which is essential for a baby’s early immune function and general health. These substances can impair and harm the child’s development. Severe drug use may even lead to a premature labor, placental abruption, other birth defects, or miscarriage.

Spread of infectious diseases – sharing needles and engaging in risky sexual activity due to impaired thinking can lead to a slew of sexually-transmitted diseases and infectious diseases, due to unsanitary drug use. The US has seen a rise in STDs primarily correlating with the rise in opioid abuse. Most of these diseases are preventable by practicing safe sex with trusted partners and avoiding drugs. About 1 in 10 cases of HIV in the US is caused by drug injection, while drugs like prescription opioids and methamphetamine can greatly boost libido and decrease cognitive function (critical thinking).

Risk of automotive accidents – driving under the influence of drugs, particularly alcohol and other depressants, is extremely dangerous and often puts the driver and everyone else on the road in harm’s way. Automobile accidents caused by drinking claim about 29 lives every single day, in the US alone. This is a nationwide issue with no simple fix, but many who drive under the influence do so because they can’t stop drinking or taking drugs.

Risk of secondhand smoke – secondhand smoke puts children and adults alike at risk for lung cancer, even in individuals who have never smoked before. Secondhand smoke often contains dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals from the production of tobacco and the production of cigarettes. Secondhand smoke from high-THC marijuana can very rarely show up in a urine test, potentially putting the jobs and careers of those who don’t smoke at risk.

Drug use can end a person’s life – but it can also negatively impact and end the lives of others. As our nation is currently struggling with an opioid epidemic, it’s more important today than ever to educate one another on the negative effects of drug use – not to scare the kids into staying on the straight and narrow, but to teach them the value of their own life, and that the short-term pleasure associated with drug use will never be worth the physical and mental price you pay with addiction.

More than ever, now is the time to show compassion toward our loved ones as they struggle with getting clean and staying clean. Addiction treatment today is more effective than it has ever been, but it’s still a long and bumpy road for most.

Residential treatment, outpatient programs, sober living homes and addiction treatment resource centers exist all over the country, providing relief in the face of a problem that affects millions. By encouraging treatment, communities can work together to push back against a growing issue.

Can You Be Predisposed Toward Addiction?

Predisposition towards addiction

Addictions develop over time, requiring extensive contact with drugs. However, a person’s likelihood to use drugs as well as their sensitivity to said drugs can speed up the addiction process. There are factors outside of a person’s control that make them more likely to get addicted. From genetics to school year experiences, countless factors increase or decrease the likelihood of addiction.

Up to a tenth of the country has used an illicit drug in the past month, and the majority of Americans have tried illicit drugs in their lifetime. This country is no stranger to drugs, and as news reports and statistics show, illegal meth, heroin, and marijuana are produced and distributed throughout the nation. Aside from prescription drugs and alcohol, teens and adults today must face the fact that at some point, they will possibly be confronted with the choice of taking drugs, or not taking them, either through friends, family, or distant acquaintances.

Until the moment drug use turns into addiction, every instance of use is a matter of choice. But choices are not always rational. Instead, many of us are impulsive, and rash, especially in our youth, and in times of great stress and pain.

Acknowledging and studying how certain risk factors affect addiction can help us better understand why some people get addicted while others don’t, and it helps us better identify whether someone is at risk of developing an addiction or not. For people who have gone through the process of getting addicted, it can help them understand why, and how it happened. For those scared of struggling with addiction, it can provide the additional information they need to confirm that drugs are not worth the risk.


Addiction and Family History

Statistically, the risk of developing an addiction when exposed to drug use correlates with a family history of drug abuse. Roughly half of the risk of getting addicted is genetic. That does not mean that nearly half of all people who have a history of addiction in the family will develop an addiction. What it means is that in people who do develop an addiction, it’s likely there was a family history of addiction, and that they were genetically predisposed to react more strongly to certain drugs.

We don’t completely understand why that is. One possible explanation may be that drug use leaves an impression on the genes, passing on a susceptibility. A more plausible explanation may be that some families are more susceptible to the addictive qualities of drugs due to the way their brain works.

It’s a topic of much debate, with a substantial amount of research dedicated to uncovering the truth, and no clear consensus in sight. Comorbid factors such as mental illness can also be genetic, especially in the case of mood disorders and anxiety. Because these also increase the risk of addiction, the waters are quite muddied when it comes to ascertaining exactly how much risk family history accounts for. Human genome experts are working on isolating potential genes that may explain a tendency towards substance abuse.

Other forms of predisposition include childhood experiences and mental health issues. These are not genetic but do count as affecting a person’s risk for addiction. Growing up in a hostile environment can lead to many emotional instabilities and insecurities, which can be “medicated” through drug use. Mental health issues also correlate with addiction, for similar reasons. When mental healthcare is unavailable, too expensive, or avoided out of the fear of being stigmatized or ostracized, drug use temporarily becomes an attractive alternative.


Predisposition Isn’t a Guarantee

An important message to remember is that simply being predisposed towards addiction does not mean you will be addicted. The biggest risk factor is and always will be extensive drug use. So, staying away from drugs eliminates the possibility of developing a drug addiction.

Behavioral addictions are more difficult to avoid. You can form an unhealthy relationship with food, sex, gambling, and other activities. However, many argue that these disorders are separate from addiction. In either case, just as there are many factors that increase risk, there are also things you can do to stave off the risk of addiction, such as:

  • Biannual checkups – there are health conditions that can lead to mental health problems. If gone unnoticed, they can wreak havoc on your life. Getting regular checkups can uncover deficiencies, abnormalities, and stop mental symptoms before they grow.
  • Going to therapy – many Americans avoid therapy yet struggle with mental health issues or symptoms of a developing emotional problem. Like other diseases, these issues can fester and grow. In the early stages, they can be remedied at home through a happier, healthier lifestyle. But in cases of severe anxiety, depression, or trauma, getting professional help is critical.
  • Leading a healthy life – eat well, move often. Not only is a balanced diet good for your waistline, but it’s essential for your mental health.
  • Avoiding excess stress – stress is a fact of life, but there’s only so much we can take, even with all the world’s relaxation techniques. Eliminate unnecessary stress.
  • Enjoying your work – while this is not possible for everyone, you should aim to do something you genuinely like doing. Not everyone has the privilege of pursuing their passions, but it can genuinely help to do work you enjoy doing.
  • Making friends – having emotional support in your life matters a lot. Being able to support others emotionally is just as, if not more important. We rely on human interaction and being there for others not only allows us to create stronger bonds but makes us feel more important and useful.


Get Help

If you or someone you know is at risk for developing an addiction, it’s important to remember that that is not the same as having an addiction. Preemptively asking someone to seek treatment for an addiction they don’t have is out of line. But what you can do is ask someone to seek help for any other problems they may have. If you fear your friend is struggling with a mental health issue, like depression, and may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and forget about their problems, then asking them to address the issue before it escalates can help.

If you’re struggling mentally and are worried about developing an addiction, know that you’re still in control. Drugs don’t have legs of their own, and won’t make their way into your life unless you let them in. But it’s a good idea to seek out help anyway, especially to address your thoughts, mood, and behavior, and potentially find out if there’s anything going on in your head.

If you or someone you know has been struggling with addiction, then getting help is critical. The sooner you address an addiction, the easier it is to treat the problem. Like other diseases, if left to grow unchecked for too long, treatment can become very difficult.


The Recovery Timeline

The Recovery Timeline

Recovery is not a quick process. In a manner of speaking, addiction recovery is a lifelong commitment – but the road to feeling “normal” again and being in control of your life and your actions, is only a few weeks or months long.

Addiction recovery begins with the choice to live a better life. Then, that choice leads to getting help. From there, most treatment programs begin by helping you get clean, helping you through the withdrawal process, and giving you an idea of what’s to come in the near future.

After withdrawal, addiction treatment changes and generally looks very different from person to person. Some people respond better to certain types of therapy than others, and it can be difficult to know what works best for you. Whenever possible, treatment centers would work to help you include others in your treatment – from friends and family, to other sober people looking for support from a local sober community.

Only a fraction of recovery is about quitting drug use. The rest is about helping you keep the commitment alive – not because you need to, but because you want to. Learning to love sobriety and lead a life you can wholeheartedly enjoy without another high is incredibly difficult, but it gets easier when you start doing things you love.

Everyone has a different path, although they all lead in the same direction: sobriety as an opportunity to lead a happier, healthier, and enjoyable life, free from drug use because you just don’t need them anymore. Getting there takes time. How much time is up to you and the treatment you chose.


The First Step Is…

It’s a cliché, but that’s just because it’s true. The first step in recovery is realizing you have a problem and doing something about it. Whether it’s telling your family, asking a doctor, visiting a treatment facility, or getting in touch with a sober friend, any serious action towards sobriety with the understanding that you have a problem is a real first step.

The first step must be your own. Getting sent to rehab through a court order or maintaining your denial even while going through therapy is not the first step – it’s a prelude, the last dying throes of your addiction before you wake up and realize you’re fighting against a disease.

No matter how you come to your realization, it usually leads to the same place – professional help. Treatment facilities, outpatient programs, addiction medicine, sober living homes, specialized therapy – there are many ways to combat addiction, and they can all work.


Addiction, Tolerance, Withdrawal, and Detox

Once you’ve found help, quitting is next. But with quitting comes a lot of extra baggage. In most cases, an addiction doesn’t just lead to mental symptoms, but it affects the body as well. Quitting drug use while addicted thus leads to withdrawal symptoms, caused by the physical dependence developed during the addiction.

These symptoms differ from drug to drug, usually including:

  • Jitters
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Shivers
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia

Getting addicted takes much longer than a single hit, and relatively few drug users end up struggling with addiction – in fact, many experiment, and then go on with their lives without a single craving.

But some are far more susceptible to abusing drugs than others, for reasons like pain, trauma, or fear. Many use drugs to escape these emotions – and the continuous use desensitizes the brain to the drug, leading to tolerance. Soon, the user must take a higher dosage to feel the same effect. And with time, the brain readjusts to the new dosage. Eventually, when it comes time to quit, the brain can’t adjust to the sudden lack of the drug. This causes emotional and physical havoc.

Certain non-addictive drugs retain the same problem, requiring a careful weaning process to avoid the consequences of withdrawal. Antidepressants, for example, are not physically addictive but require you to wean off them due to the nature of the drug’s interactions with neurotransmitters in the brain.

However, depending on what you’re addicted to, treatment centers may simply help you deal with your withdrawal without weaning you off your drug. Instead, they begin by helping you detox. The detox process happens at all times – it occurs whenever a drug is ingested. Once in the bloodstream, the liver begins metabolizing a drug, and disposing of it through your waste – through the sweat, urine, and feces. Medical detox may involve helping your system metabolize the drugs in your bloodstream by offering medicine that helps the liver and kidneys function better.

After detox, your body will go through unique withdrawal symptoms. The timeline for withdrawal depends on your health, the severity of the addiction, and the drug you took. Some withdrawal periods are small – others are much longer. Sedatives like alcohol and anti-anxiety medication usually have the longest withdrawal periods.

In some cases – such as methamphetamine use – withdrawal symptoms can reoccur weeks after the initial period is over. This is known as post-acute withdrawal symptom, an effect of prolonged drug use on the brain.


After Early Recovery

Once you’re clean and past the initial rollercoaster of sobriety, your mind begins to see reality a bit clearer. This marks the end of the early recovery period, and it’s usually where the meat of a program is tackled. Sober living homes, residential rehabilitation centers and outpatient programs all involve the use of psychotherapy to help patients like you figure out why you resorted to drug use, and what might make you stop craving drugs in the future.

Responsibility, accountability, self-worth – these are tools that programs try to instill in patients, by honing their abilities, helping them learn to trust themselves again, and giving them hope for a future where they can be an important part of society and their families. But it doesn’t happen overnight. And there can be setbacks.


Dealing with Relapse

A relapse is when someone in recovery uses again. Because recovery builds up the hope of a new future, relapses can be particularly devastating as they make many believe there is no hope for them after all. But this is misleading.

The truth is that most people struggle with one or more relapses in the early years of sobriety, while they are still figuring out how to live their lives without drugs. Relapses are regrettable, but they do not signify failure. And by working with a good treatment center or therapist, you can even learn from a relapse and discover what it is that specifically made you turn back towards drugs as an answer to your problems.

Some people never relapse, and others take several rehab sessions until they finally find the life they needed to live. If you never give up, there’s always hope.


The Marathon

We’ve heard it before: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Marathons are 42.195 kilometers in length, often spanning through entire cities, as per the distance from Marathon to Athens. It’s a long and arduous journey, requiring a lot of preparation, stamina, willpower, and physical fortitude. There can be hurdles, slow moments, second winds, doubts and hopes.

Your marathon spans years, from the day you complete your program to the day you pass on. While addiction is a disease that eats at the brain, there is a time when you regain control over your life, and your choices are your own – despite the temptations, cravings, and difficulties coping with life’s challenges, you must make the choice to stay sober day after day, week after week, year after year.

Most people falter at least once, and relapses are common. Some, sadly, falter and never get up again. But many manage, finding their pace, making each day less arduous and more rewarding. This is the final stretch of the timeline, an indefinite period lasting for as long as you wish.