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:
- Muscle pain
- Mood swings
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.
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.