Addiction is an insidious disease that can take hold quickly (in some cases, after first use of some drugs) or develop only after long-term substance abuse. Though there are certain similarities among addicted individuals, each case is unique, and is influenced by myriad biological, psychological, and social factors such as age, gender, prior drug use, the substance being abused, and family history.
Because of the intensely personal qualities of addiction, no two people will follow the identical path to recovery. For example, some people will require residential care, outpatient treatment, and years of therapy, while others will be able to bring their disease under control with medication and counseling.
Even with so many influences and factors, though, most recovering addicts will pass through similar phases and stages on their walk from the depths of addiction to the freedom and promise of long-term abstinence.
The following are five common stages of addiction recovery:
This first stage is marked by a growing awareness that there is a problem. In some cases, this realization results from conversations with family members, friends or co-workers; in other instances, it may only occur after the addiction has led to health, financial, work, or legal problems.
Although the addict is still engaging in addictive behaviors, and hasn’t made any measurable progress toward ending those behaviors, this first stage is critical in paving the way for the rest of the recovery process.
One of the most important parts of this phase is the transition from mere awareness of the problem to actual acknowledgement that action is needed. Few experiences are as essential to an addict as the moment when he or she shifts from denial to a willingness to make a change.
The second stage of the recovery process involves a shift from awareness to action. In this stage, the addicts are ready to take the first step toward recovery, often in the form of learning more about addiction and the impact it is having on their life and the lives of the people they care about.
The consideration stage is important because this is when the addict begins to look beyond himself/herself and to understand that friends, family members, and colleagues have been negatively affected by his/her choices and behaviors.
By taking the step of learning more about their disease and its effect on others, addicts in the consideration stage make the important transition from awareness to action. Though not yet actively pursuing recovery, they are moving in that direction, and are gaining potentially invaluable information and insights in the process.
Moving past denial, the addict is motivated to overcome his or her addiction and begins taking small steps such as exploring the concepts of moderation and abstinence. Some say that this exploratory stage is the stage when recovery really begins.
During the exploring recovery stage, addicts may begin to educate themselves about the recovery process and what it means to live a sober life. They may consult with friends or family members who have been through similar experiences, and may also begin to collect information about treatment options.
This third stage is often when some addicts first make the critical decision to enter an addiction treatment program.
Early recovery is a time of both great significance and significant risk.
On the positive side, addicts in early recovery have not only stopped using the substance(s) to which they were addicted, but they have also begun learning how to remain drug-free for the long term. On the less-than-positive side, early recovery is also a time of great vulnerability. The addicts are in the process of abandoning people, activities, and behaviors that have been significant parts of their lives, yet they have yet to completely establish the foundation of their newly drug-free lives.
Relapse is far from uncommon during early recovery. Slipping back into drug abuse during this period can be particularly problematic, because recovering addicts may not yet have developed the knowledge and skills that will prevent them from backsliding into full-blown addiction.
Some of the most important steps taken during Stage Four are developing new coping skills and healthy habitsand rebuilding damaged relationships.
By the time they reach this fifth stage, addicts have completed a great deal of work and made great progress. Perhaps most importantly, they have also learned that they will need to continue to work hard for the rest of their lives to guard against relapse (or to return to sobriety after relapsing). This will require active monitoring of their thoughts and behaviors, ongoing practice of new skills, maintaining a support system, and staying alert to triggers and temptations to use.
Although recovery is never easy, by this fifth stage, recovering addicts have begun to live lives they could scarcely have imagined at the start of this journey.
Recovery is about much more than overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol, It is a complete transformation of mind, body and spirit. While some individuals can progress through the stages of recovery with just the support of friends and family, most will require education and new skills from a drug rehab program.