The Ultimate Guide to Addiction Recovery
Recoverlution’s Ultimate Guide to Addiction Recovery.
In this guide, we answer many of the questions asked by those in recovery or seeking recovery. We also aim to answer some of the more common questions asked by the loved ones of those struggling with an addiction.
Topics covered in our ultimate guide to addiction recovery include:
- How long it can take a person to overcome addiction
- Can addiction be cured?
- How long a detox can last
- How long rehab takes
- Does the brain ever fully recover from addiction?
- How drugs and alcohol affect the brain
- The 4 stages of addiction recovery
- The 5 stages of change
- How to prevent relapse in recovery from addiction
- The importance of self-help groups and recovery communities
- How to prevent addiction
Read on to find out more on these topics, and answers to the common questions asked, in our Ultimate guide to addiction recovery.
Duration it takes a person to overcome an addiction
When entering into treatment, many find themselves wondering how long it takes to overcome an addiction.
There isn't a set time frame for how long recovery from addiction takes. Overcoming addiction is truly a unique journey for each individual.
The length of time it takes for someone to overcome their addiction is based on many factors, including:
- What kind of substance they were using
- How long have they been using for
- Whether or not they were using multiple substances
- Whether or not they have a co-occurring mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD
- Their previous experiences, or trauma they’ve endured
- Their relationships and social support network
- Living environment
Overcoming addiction and experiencing recovery is not just about ending substance use. Understanding addiction on a deeper level means knowing that ending substance use is just the first step.
Recovery involves looking inward and truly healing oneself from the inside out. For someone to experience long-lasting recovery from addiction, they must work on understanding the underlying issues that drove their substance use in the first place.
Many people may engage in substance use in an effort to numb or escape difficult emotions, or to forget painful memories. Some used to try and feel something after struggling with numbness or emptiness.
Although healing is an ongoing process, some substances do move out of the system more quicker than others. However, just because the body is no longer receiving substances does not mean someone is “recovered.” The process of recovery is ongoing and stopping substances is merely the first but crucial first step.
Can addiction be cured?
Many who are affected by addiction or know someone who is, want to know if addiction can be cured.
Whilst addiction cannot be cured, it can be successfully treated and recovery from addiction can be maintained.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction can be likened to other chronic and progressive illnesses such as asthma or heart disease. These illnesses require sufferers to engage in ongoing treatment in order to maintain their wellness.
Treatment allows those suffering to end substance use and then shift their behaviours. It helps them to learn how to regulate their emotions and develop healthy coping skills.
Addiction treatment needs to be bespoke for the individual, allowing them to develop an entirely new way of living, one that is free from the weight of substance use. So, although addiction isn’t curable, it is entirely treatable, and it is also preventable.
How long does detox take?
When getting help for addiction, some may enter into a detox programme. During detoxification, substances are flushed from the body. A person with substance dependence will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms at this point. The duration and severity of withdrawal can vary based on the severity of the addiction and the type of substance used. After the initial detox period, withdrawal symptoms will begin to fade.
The period of time it takes for a substance to leave the body depends on the specific substance. For instance, it can take ten days for the body to flush itself of alcohol. Detox from heroin can take an average of 5 to 7 days, and up to 14 days in instances of chronic use. A substance like a methamphetamine, however, is short-acting. This means it leaves the body’s system faster. A detox for short-acting stimulants can last as little as 3 days.
Some substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, are dangerous to try and detox from without help. Doing so may lead to severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, delirium tremens, or even death. This is why when seeking help for addiction, the safest option is to have a medical detox. This can take place at either a hospital or through a rehab programme.
How long does rehab last?
If someone enters rehab, the length of time of their stay will be based upon their needs as well as the guidelines of the specific rehab programme. Some rehab programmes last for 28 days, while others can last for 60 or 90 days. There are rehab programmes that can last for 6 months to 1 year.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, experiencing positive outcomes from treatment is based on sufficient treatment length. Research has shown that those who attend treatment for less than 90 days have poorer incomes than those who attend treatment for longer.
This is why it’s so essential to enter an outpatient recovery programme upon ending inpatient treatment. Getting help for addiction means continuing to attend treatment, so that life after rehab doesn't result in relapse.
Some forms of outpatient treatment can include one-on-one therapy, counselling, outpatient group therapy, aftercare or attending meetings.
Recovery from addiction is truly ongoing. There is no set point when someone is “recovered,” as healing and growing happen continuously at each new level of recovery.
How addiction affects the brain
It can be easy to wonder why someone struggling with addiction doesn’t “just stop using.” One of the reasons for this is because of addiction’s powerful effects on the brain itself. Understanding addiction also means understanding how ongoing substance use quite literally changes how the brain works.
Some of the effects of addiction on the brain:
- Produces artificially induced pleasure
- Disrupts the dopamine-reward cycle
- Interferes with neurons and neurotransmitters
- Creates tolerance, dependence & withdrawal
- Rewires the brains pathways
- Creates lasting changes to important functions
Producing pleasure in the addicted brain
Ingested substances release dopamine into the brain. Dopamine is mother natures feel-good chemical. This flood of dopamine also happens in the nucleus accumbens, or the brain’s “pleasure center.”
The surge of dopamine released by substances is at least 2 - 10 times the amount of dopamine released through natural rewards. Natural rewards are rewards given by the brain for engaging in healthy and life-sustaining behaviours such as eating, engaging in hobbies, relationships and sex.
When the addicted brain experiences a flood of dopamine due to substance use, it rewires itself to seek that source of dopamine. This compels the brain to continue to seek that substance. This is how a habit forms, as it takes less and less conscious effort for the brain to seek out the source of dopamine. Even if someone is seeking help for addiction, it is still difficult, as the brain rewires itself to seek the substance. With some substances, such as opioids, dependence can develop in as little as 3-5 days of continuous of use.
Interference with the brain’s neurons and neurotransmitters
Substances have the ability to impact neurons and neurotransmitters in the brain because they are structurally similar to those neurons or neurotransmitters. For instance, marijuana and heroin can activate certain neurons in the brain because they’re structurally similar. This interference can impact the way neurons transmit and process information.
Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal
When someone continues to take the same amount of a substance, their brain becomes used to the effects of the substance. This is known as tolerance. They then have to take more in order to get the desired effect. With repeated exposure, the brain develops dependence. Depriving the brain of substances it is dependent on causes it to go into withdrawal. During drug and alcohol withdrawal, a person can experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms based on the substance they were using. Therefore, many struggling with addiction engage in use in an effort to avoid the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.
Does the brain recover from addiction?
Long-term substance use impairs brain functioning in many ways. However, studies have shown that the brain can recover from addiction, although it takes time.
Some studies have demonstrated improvements in brain functioning following abstinence in as little as 90 days. Other studies have demonstrated brain healing after approximately 12 to 18 months of consistent abstinence.
Factors that affect how long it takes the brain to recover from addiction, include:
- Age and health condition
- Substances used
- The severity of use and dependence
- Active engagement in therapy
- Effective treatment for co-occurring disorders and trauma
Additional factors for healing the brain in addiction recovery are:
- Ongoing abstinence
- Regular exercise
- Engagement in therapy
- Supportive social connections
- Engagement in hobbies
- Adequate sleep
- Good nutrition
The 4 stages of addiction recovery
Recovery from addiction has 4 unique stages. Each of these stages brings with it its own challenges and triumphs. Learning about what the arc of recovery looks like in this way can help those struggling with addiction gain a better understanding of what to expect in all stages of the recovery process.
The 4 stages of addiction recovery:
- Treatment initiation
- Early abstinence
- Maintaining abstinence
- Advanced recovery
1. Treatment initiation
The first stage of recovery is when someone seeking help for addiction begins treatment. This can include entering a detox programme, attending inpatient rehab, going to meetings, or engaging in therapy or counselling.
Those in treatment initiation may grapple with a fear of whether or not they can actually end use and find recovery. They may even second-guess being in treatment, romanticising what life was like whilst they were using. It’s essential for those in this stage to know that the recovery process, especially at the beginning, will feel challenging and scary to face. However, remembering their own reasons for engaging in treatment while leaning on others for support can help to navigate this stage successfully.
2. Early abstinence
The next stage of recovery from addiction is early abstinence. This stage essentially begins after someone has become fully engaged in treatment. This is arguably the most challenging stage of recovery to go through, on a mental, emotional, and even physical level.
Those in early abstinence will face withdrawal symptoms as the body has stopped ingesting substances. In this stage, those in recovery will have to face the difficult emotions they’ve been avoiding. They may explore traumas they’ve been trying to forget. They may even feel numb, unsure of how to even feel emotions as they’ve been disconnected from them for so long.
Those in this stage may face constant mental battles as they continue to come up against cravings and triggers. They may also now have to deal with the wreckage of their past use and the consequences it had on their relationships, careers, school, or hopes in general.
All of this chaos is part of what healing looks like. The truth is, recovery is a messy look inwards and means facing and understanding all elements of oneself – both good and bad. The healing process is both front and center during early abstinence. Healing allows those in recovery from addiction to understand their old life, while creating a new more positive one.
3. Maintaining abstinence
The third stage of addiction recovery is the maintenance stage. This stage can generally begin around 90 days after consistent sobriety following treatment initiation. This stage is centred on maintaining the abstinence that has been achieved while avoiding relapse. During early abstinence, those in recovery learn that remaining sober is a conscious, daily choice. This daily choice and conscious effort continue into the maintenance stage.
Those in this stage of recovery from addiction will focus on maintaining the new, healthy behaviours they’ve developed. They’ll observe when they feel triggered to use, and work to understand what’s prompting those triggers on a mental and emotional level. They will continue to use the healthy, helpful coping skills that they’ve developed.
4. Advanced recovery
The fourth stage of addiction recovery is advanced recovery. In this stage, those in recovery experience continued growth on a mental, emotional, spiritual, and perhaps even physical level. This stage generally begins after around 5 years of continuous abstinence.
At this stage, those in recovery will be able to take everything they’ve learned and experienced to not only refrain from substance use, but to live a truly fulfilling life. Those in the advanced recovery stage may set new work or career goals, or foster relationships with others who do not engage in substance use. They may have a daily schedule that helps them to feel productive and fulfilled. They may also engage in some form of community work, may delve deeper into religion or spirituality, or simply continue to pursue a life that feels most authentic to them.
The stages of change model of recovery
Those who struggle with addiction typically fall into one of 5 stages in what is known as the stages of change (or transtheoretical) model.
The 5 stages of change are as follows:
Part of understanding addiction is knowing that there is no set time frame for each of these stages. Someone may be in one stage for several months or several years, while someone else is in the same stage for just a few days.
The first stage of change model is known as the pre-contemplation stage. Just as the name suggests, those within the precontemplation are not considering getting help for addiction. They may still be in denial about their addiction, not acknowledging that there is even a problem. Those in precontemplation may not have faced the consequences of their use, or the consequences of their use have not yet impacted them significantly. They don’t find a need to change their behaviours, and they may still enjoy engaging in substance use. Someone in the pre-contemplation stage will not see the issue that needs to be fixed.
The second stage of the stages of change model is the contemplation stage. When someone becomes aware that their use is negatively impacting their life, the veil begins to get removed in this stage. Those struggling with addiction start to notice that some of the difficulties they’re facing on a daily basis are direct consequences of their substance use. At this stage, those struggling may begin to weigh up the pros and cons of getting help for addiction.
No matter how long someone finds themselves contemplating what to do, their path can move one of two ways. They can either go back to the pre-contemplation stage, or they can go on to the next stage of change.
The third stage of change is the preparation stage. In this stage, the person with addiction has made a decision whilst in the contemplation stage. They’ve decided that something needs to change. In the preparation stage, they are getting everything together to take the steps toward that change.
Someone in this stage may make a plan for reducing their substance use. They may figure out how to reduce triggers in their environment. They may decide to start stepping back from unhealthy relationships with others who use. Those in this stage may also begin looking into treatment programmes or recovery meetings. They may start looking into detoxes or one-on-one counsellors.
The fourth stage of change is the action stage. At this point, a person seeking help for addiction will attend treatment or meetings. They’ll go to detox or individual counselling sessions. They’ll make changes in their environment to support their recovery efforts.
Many people think that this stage is when things “get better,” but the action stage can be an incredibly complicated, challenging time. The brain and body are having to adjust to no longer receiving the substances they’ve grown addicted to. Those struggling are now having to come face to face with previous trauma or difficult emotions they’ve been pushing down for years.
During this time, those with addiction are essentially learning an entirely new way of living. As difficult as it can be, with conscious effort and persistence, many move on to the next stage.
The final stage of change is the maintenance stage. As the name implies, this stage of change is focused on maintaining the new behaviours learned in the action stage. It’s focused on maintaining the intentions set in the preparation stage. Those in the maintenance stage of change are focused on maintaining their recovery from addiction.
Let’s Talk About Addiction Relapse
Some professionals include relapse as part of the stages of change. Research shows that relapse rates for addiction are similar, if not more, than relapse rates for other progressive chronic diseases. Such diseases would include Type 1 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.
Relapse rates in patients with chronic diseases are estimated at:
- Type 1 diabetes - 30% - 50% of patients experienced relapse
- Substance use disorder - 40% - 60% of patients experienced relapse
- Asthma - 50% - 70% of patients experienced relapse
- Hypertension - 50% - 70% of patients experienced relapse
Additional research shows that more than 85% of people relapse and return to drug use within 1 year following treatment. They further estimate that more than two-thirds of people in recovery relapse within weeks and months of beginning addiction treatment. These flooring statistics only highlight how important it is to tailor treatment individually.
If relapse occurs, it does not mean the person in recovery from addiction has “failed.” It simply means that further treatment is needed and that there may be underlying work that still needs to be done. There are clearly defined stages of relapse in addiction recovery. Relapse doesn’t just happen spontaneously, rather it is the culmination of an emotional and mental build-up.
Preventing relapse in recovery from addiction
Preventing relapse in recovery from addiction is one of the foundations of ongoing treatment. While many focus on the challenges that arise whilst gaining sobriety, there is also the conscious effort that must be made when maintaining it. Recovery from addiction doesn’t happen on its own and is a conscious act. Therefore, the same can be said for preventing relapse.
An important concept to understand about relapse is that it doesn’t happen as impulsively as one may be led to believe. There is what’s often referred to as the relapse before the relapse, or the mental and emotional build-up that leads to the physical relapse.
In the first stage of relapse, an individual may not be thinking about using at all.
However, they may be…
- Bottling up and ignoring their feelings
- Isolating themselves from others
- Not leaning on others for support or help
- Pretending everything is okay when it really isn’t
- Developing poor sleeping or eating habits
If left unmanaged, this can lead to the second stage of relapse, which is the mental relapse. At this stage, someone may be entertaining the idea of using again. They may be romanticising what they felt like back when they were using. They may reflect on things being better than they actually were. Additionally, someone in this stage may have the idea that they can use “just once,” and that it won’t lead to a negative consequence.
Someone experiencing a mental relapse may find themselves lying again, or may be feeling urges to engage in use. If left unmanaged, this can all lead to the final stage of relapse, which is the physical relapse in which the person uses again.
Since relapse is a process, it is entirely preventable at any stage. As previously mentioned, preventing relapse takes conscious effort, and can look different for everyone.
Preventing relapse in recovery from addiction can include:
- Maintaining awareness of a person's inner state
- Knowing triggers and developing strategies to manage them
- Getting involved with recovery communities and meetings for support
- Attending therapy for difficult-to-manage emotions and for past trauma
- Focusing on healing the whole being for optimal wellness: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual
The importance of self-help groups & communities for addiction recovery
This wouldn't be an ultimate guide to addiction recovery without mentioning the importance of recovery communities and self-help groups.
Even though there aren’t any requirements for recovery, there is no denying that connection plays a massive role in a successful recovery from addiction. This is why addiction recovery communities such as self-help groups can provide significant value for those in recovery, and those seeking recovery.
Research has shown that in order to achieve and maintain abstinence, it is important to develop positive relationships with others. Positive relationships involve having supportive people close by or easily accessible. These relationships allow a person to connect with others without feelings of guilt or shame.
The increasing availability of self-help groups and recovery communities makes them easily accessible for anyone, regardless of location. Many groups now hold meetings online, in addition to in-person.
Some of the benefits of attending self-help groups for addiction recovery:
- Learning from others
- Validating one’s experiences
- Feeling less isolated in one’s struggles
- Feeling connected to others
- Forming friendships
- Gaining hope and inspiration
- Building self-esteem and confidence
- Increasing self-efficacy
- Gaining accountability from others
- Increasing introspection
By attending self-help groups, those in recovery from addiction have the opportunity to learn from other people who have been where they are. Addiction recovery communities can help their participants learn how to navigate urges and triggers. They can help them learn how to repair relationships, and how to pursue their goals from other people who have successfully done the same.
Many struggling with addiction feel alone and feel that no one could understand what they are going through. However, addiction recovery communities can help individuals feel validated in everything they're experiencing, and to know that these struggles are a normal part of the journey.
Struggling with addiction can embed a deep sense of low self-esteem and low self-worth. Support groups can help attendees to build self-confidence and self-efficacy.
Support groups are a great way to provide accountability and maintain sobriety. Many support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery encourage introspection, which is foundational for healing and growth.
Addiction can be prevented
With addiction being so pervasive in today’s world, many wonder if addiction can be prevented. The good news is that yes, addiction can be prevented. Although there is no one single way to prevent addiction from developing, there are many things that can be done and measures that can be taken to help reduce the risk of addiction.
There are many factors contributing to the development of addiction, including:
- Mental health issues
- Family history of substance use
- A history of trauma
The earlier someone engages in substance use, the more likely they are to become addicted. Engaging in prevention efforts for adolescents is an integral way of reducing the risk of an addiction developing.
Studies continue to demonstrate that research-based programs have been able to reduce the early use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
Additionally, the risk of engaging in substance use increases during times of transition. For youth, this can include transitioning into middle school or high school, or dealing with divorce among parents. For adults, this can look like experiencing job loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one.
During these times, it is important to increase one’s protective factors against developing an addiction.
Increasing protective factors against addiction can involve:
- Engaging in therapy to ensure emotions are being experienced and not repressed.
- Working through any history of trauma that is impacting the present
- Leaning on family, friends, and loved ones for support
- Attending self-help groups or meetings to increase a sense of connectedness for a shared struggle
- Making sure one’s basic needs are being met, such as getting enough sleep and eating in a way that helps the body
Everyone recovers from addiction differently
From our ultimate guide to addiction recovery, you will have probably come to the realisation that addiction recovery is a very personal journey and that there are many different approaches, treatments and sources.
Recoverlution has brought the various different fragmented approaches together within one safe and easy-to-access space. Here, you can join a recovery community, attend meetings, read about addiction and recovery, and access evidence-based methods to improve and sustain wellness.
Recoverlution offers a great space for those in recovery or seeking recovery to gain knowledge and feel accepted.
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