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What Is Addiction Recovery?

Surgeon General’s Call to Action Prompts Deeper Dive into the Five Stages of Addiction Recovery

By Brian McAlister

“The way we as a society view and address opioid use disorder must change — individual lives and the health of our nation depend on it.” – Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H.

The opioid crisis hits close to home for many of us, including our surgeon general. His younger brother has struggled with the disease, and Dr. Adams knows firsthand the pain and suffering that accompany it. In his recent report, Facing Addiction in America, the surgeon general calls for a better understanding of opioid use disorder as a chronic, treatable brain disease, and advocates for better partnerships with health advocates, business, law enforcement, educators and faith-based communities.

In other words, it’s time to rethink the addiction support and recovery options in our nation. But before we do even that, I believe it’s important to fully understand the process of addiction recovery so that we can offer appropriate, effective choices.

Misunderstanding an Epidemic

People sometimes use the phrase “former addict,” but truthfully, there is no such thing. Maybe after spending a few days in detox or 28 days in rehab, you may consider yourself sober. But you’ve barely scratched the surface. Sobriety is not simply abstinence. Sobriety is an ever-expanding demonstration of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, lived one moment at a time.

Anyone who has successfully battled drug addiction, as I have, knows that recovery is an active process. It is accomplished one moment, one day at a time for an extended period. Many sober days stacked one on top of the other result in a rich and abundant life in recovery. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. The joy is in the journey.

The Five Stages of Addiction Recovery

I have identified five stages in the addiction recovery process. Understanding each of these stages will go a long way toward understanding — and planning for — your addiction recovery.

(1) Awareness

(2) Preparation

(3) Action

(4) Early Recovery

(5) Active Recovery and Maintenance

Awareness Is the Pivotal First Step

When you’re deep into addictive behavior, you don’t see a problem. You feel as if you’re riding the highs and lows expertly, and handling everything. And this likely feels normal. Then, you hit rock bottom. Perhaps it’s a failed marriage, a lost job, or even a near-death experience that shakes you to the core. It’s when you finally acknowledge the problem that you start a process that is both humbling and difficult, but also empowering. You struggle to understand your addiction. It’s during this initial stage that you benefit from nonjudgmental feedback that will encourage you to move to the next step: preparation.

Thoughtful Preparation Is the Key to Success

You’re thinking about how you might kick the habit. You even wonder if you can do it on your own. You may start doing research on various programs and options. The more planning you do, the better prepared you will be once you take action. Understanding how the brain functions in addiction lets you know the seriousness of avoiding triggers that could lead to relapse. You’ll want to set up a support network. You can’t beat addiction alone.

Ready, Set, Action!

You’re ready to take action. You may begin attending meetings such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery or another support group. You may check yourself into a detox center, visit an outpatient treatment center or take any of a number of first steps toward becoming sober. Family and friends are likely to be excited and positive about this step. You may be as well. Take it one day at a time. You made a commitment. This is great news!

Early Recovery Is a Risky Time

The initial excitement has worn off. Your new normal may not feel “normal” to you at all. Life may seem boring when compared to the dramatic highs and lows of addiction. Don’t let that tempt you. It’s very important to try to find ways to avoid the triggers — the friends, the situations, the stresses — that may lead you astray. Managing the triggers may be your only option sometimes. Anxiety and depression are common during early recovery; so are negative thought patterns. “Studies show that the first 90 days in recovery are when the greatest percentage of relapses occur,” according to Psychology Today. Most important, relapse is an avoidable part of recovery.

Active Recovery and Maintenance Takes Work

You may have been sober for years, yet recovery is a lifelong active process. I know. I still attend the 12-step program that launched me on the path to sobriety 28 years ago. Addiction is a chronic disease. As with other chronic diseases, if you don’t follow the treatment plan, you put yourself at risk. Stick to your plan and keep your goals in mind. Fighting addiction is your full-time job for the rest of your life, and it will take work.

Changing the Conversation Around Addiction

We’re just beginning to turn around the historical perception of addiction — but that’s not all that we need to change. We need to rethink the solutions for addiction recovery, making them accessible and affordable. More important, we need to be able to provide appropriate support for the lifelong struggles that recovering addicts face. One size doesn’t fit all, and the more options available, the better chance we have of successfully combating addiction. Our goal is to help recovering addicts move through sobriety and provide the personal insight to create a road map for a healthy life in recovery.

The Takeaway

  • Understanding the five stages of addiction will help you to evaluate where you or your loved one is in the process of addiction recovery and how you can move forward.
  • Remember that addiction is a chronic disease that lasts a lifetime, and it must be managed as such.
  • Put the support in place that helps you or your loved one most effectively manage addiction.
  • Help us change the conversation around addiction and embrace the full variety of addiction recovery options.

Click here to learn how Freedom 365™ works — and how it can help you or your loved one achieve good health and sobriety. Sign up for our latest news and updates here.

Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the president and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and lifesaving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4 percent of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.

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