By: Sarah Surrey, LCSW
Moving from active addiction to recovery isn’t like flipping a switch. It isn’t immediate or fast. It often isn’t even linear. There are endless methodologies for categorizing and organizing the process, but it will always remain a process. This article reviews four stages of addiction and recovery beginning with active use, moving into a transitional stage, shifting from there to early recovery, and describing on-going recovery.
STAGE ONE:Drinking/Using Stage
The first stage of addiction recovery is acknowledging that you are, in fact, struggling with addiction. You don’t have to have a name for it, or own any specific label. You don’t even have to be willing to do a lot about it, and you certainly don’t need to commit to lifelong sobriety. The very first stage still occurs in the middle of active use. It’s called the “Drinking/Using Stage”, and is right in the midst of your pattern of chemical use.
Some people have a major consequence, and become motivated to try living differently to avoid further consequences. Some people end up in treatment to appease a judge, an employer, or a family member. Some people reach out to treatment, without fully committing to the idea that their substance use is the main problem. Most people arrive in treatment still under the influence of substances, and some people medically need to seek treatment before cutting off their substances.
The entire goal of the first stage is to be willing to take the smallest of glances at what substances might be doing in your life, and then figure out the next step after that. Some people never move out of the “Drinking/Using Stage”. Those people often lose their battle to addiction by losing their lives, or live a very long time just “functioning”. Some people’s journeys leave them in a cycle of using, transition, early recovery, and relapse. Relapse is a normal part of struggling with a substance abuse disorder, but it isn’t inevitable. Long term recovery is possible with the right support and resources.
STAGE TWO: Transition Stage
For many people, the transition stage happens in a treatment setting. Others get enough support through attending 12-step support groups, and getting support from their primary care providers. Many need to connect to a wide range of treatment options, often beginning with detox or inpatient treatment. The “transition” stage generally refers to the first segment of time that it takes for a person’s drug of choice to be out of her body. Some people start to self-identify in this stage as an “addict”, or “alcoholic”, and others don’t settle on a label at all. The primary goal of this stage is to safely end substance use, and maintain the smallest willingness to take additional steps towards rebuilding a new way of living.
STAGE THREE: Early Recovery
The third stage, and the one with the widest variation, is the “Early Recovery” stage. In this stage, people in recovery must begin implementing a plan to maintain sobriety, although there still remains no reasons to verbally or emotionally commit to a lifetime of sobriety. Most people in recovery thrive on staying focused on the hours or days right in front of them, and get overwhelmed by picturing long term sobriety. Some awaken from the fog of addiction feeling healthy for the first time, and do enjoy picturing long term sobriety. Breaking down the steps of recovery into smaller pieces is the goal of this stage.
This stage varies because every person’s formula for recovery will be different. Most people need some support to begin facing co-occurring mental health issues, which might include taking medication or going to counseling long term. Some people are returning to jobs and families, and need support to do that in a healthy way; while others don’t have anything concrete to return to, and need safe housing while they rebuild employment. Most people do well with peer support, but not everyone thrives with any one specific type of peer support. The key to long term sobriety is to be willing to try as many things as possible, until it’s possible settle into a recovery routine that helps maintain recovery.
STAGE FOUR: On-Going Recovery
People in long term recovery generally settle into a routine that supports their sobriety, and is integrated into a rebuilt life. They begin, or return to, careers. They are actively involved in their families, and have built healthier social connections. They generally engage actively in recovery activities often. Some people maintain long term recovery with occasional or regular 12-step meeting attendance. Some have regular journaling, prayer, or other habits of self-reflection. Most are able to increase support quickly when life hits a difficult patch, and step back from support when life shifts back into a normal level of stress. A life in recovery isn’t free of stress and hardship, but it is full of the resources needed to meet those hardships strongly and quickly. Some in long term recovery still have days when their brains’ pathways remind them of that connection between substance use and stress relief, but they are able to make a different decision quickly. That thought doesn’t linger, or have the intensity of those early-stage cravings. To borrow from the 12-step community, long term recovery is about living “life on life’s terms”.
Not sure where to start? Harris House is ready to help you assess your need for a range of treatment levels, and able to refer to community resources when needed. Treatment at Harris House includes supporting your journey from the earliest days of detox, and continuing support well into long-term sobriety with intensive outpatient treatment and sober housing. Reach out today!