How Long Does Recovery Last?

How Long Does Recovery Last

Recovery is a term which is increasingly being used by those in the fields of mental health and wellness. To recover from something means that something first had to have been lost to us. In the realm of substance abuse, it refers to a time period of regaining the power over our life that the drugs or alcohol have previously held.

For some, this regaining of power may happen quickly, enabling them to move easily onward through life in a successful manner. For others, the process of recovery may involve a series of slower, purposeful, steps toward maintaining control over the impulses which encourage destructive behavior.  Both the length of time required, and the amount of effort involved, are dependent upon the individual factors which contribute to your unique experiences with substance abuse.


Stages of Change

A primary model of recovery involves the sequential stages that a person will go through along the journey toward wellness. As with most life models, the amount of time spent in any given stage can vary widely. It is also possible to revisit stages which were previously considered to be properly dealt with. The important thing is that all of the stages are completed, resulting in a life that is free from the  negative effects of substance abuse.



As the prefix indicates, precontemplation involves no thought or desire to cease the substance use. A person in this stage of recovery hasn’t yet accepted the fact that the negative effects of using the substance are outweighing the benefits of continuing with it. He or she is either in denial that the substance use is a problem, or is simply ignoring any advice to stop. The time frame for being in precontemplation typically involves no foreseeable change in the substance abuse behavior for the next six months.



You – or others – will recognize that you are in the contemplation stage of recovery once you begin to have second thoughts about continuing to use the drugs or alcohol. As with precontemplation, this stage expects that you will be slowly moving toward making a change in your lifestyle, as evidenced by moving into the next stage within six months. Without eventual movement into the next stage, it could be the case that a person is actually still stuck in precontemplation phase, and is simply giving lip service about having any genuine intention to change.



The preparation stage takes place once a person has given enough genuine thought toward making a change, and has decided to take steps to end the substance abuse. A person may begin to gather resource options, such as by contacting local support groups or rehab facilities. A plan for getting – and staying – sober is made, and is typically initiated within 30 days of entering this phase. Some experts believe that this stage is crucial to successful recovery, and it is reported that half of all people who skip this stage will end up relapsing. Failing to plan is planning to fail.



During the action stage, the plans made during preparation are acted upon. The length of this stage depends on the details of the particular plan, and on the severity of the addiction. For some, it will involve physical detox, followed by extensive cognitive and emotional work. For others, it may only be a matter of following a series of self-help steps or setting up some new habits. As with the previous stages of precontemplation and contemplation, a person is considered to be in action phase for at least six months.



The maintenance phase involves setting the skills and coping mechanisms developed during the action stage into place. New habits take time to be established, and evidence has shown that this time frame can range anywhere from two months to nearly a year. During this phase, only minor adjustments are necessary toward ensuring that you are staying on track with your predefined goals of sobriety. A sober living community is often the answer for people in this stage of recovery as they transition back into everyday life.

Of all of the stages, the length of time devoted to the maintenance stage is the most variable. For some, the maintenance stage will last the rest of a lifetime. For others, two years of successful maintenance is the qualifier for moving on to the next, and final, stage.



Termination stage is a relative newcomer to the model of recovery. It has previously been considered that a person who has struggled with overcoming addiction in the past is perpetually in a state of maintenance. The idea of, “once an addict, always an addict” doesn’t tend to make sense in light of the disease model of addiction. One doesn’t say that he or she is a cancer patient, in remission, once all signs of the cancer have been removed and there is no indication of it returning. After a sustained amount of time of being cancer-free, a person is considered to be cured.

Likewise, a person who has successfully navigated the stages of recovery, and who has rewritten life in such a way that the temptation to reintroduce the destructive nature of addictive substances is eliminated, can be considered free from an addiction. Reaching this stage is entirely dependent upon the confidence level of the individual, and some may feel more comfortable with staying in the maintenance phase, indefinitely.


So, How Long Does Recovery Last?

If one follows the textbook formula for the entire process of recovery, we find that there is a total of 43 months – or 3.6 years – outlined from start to finish. Once the stages have been completed, in their entirety, one is able to switch from the concept of being in recovery, to being recovered. Not all will choose to exit the safety of the maintenance phase, however, meaning that recovery, for them, will be an ongoing process. Yet others may proceed through all of the stages at a much slower, or more rapid, pace. It is important for a person on this journey to develop a keen insight into what is needed for sustained, individualized, success.