Substance addiction can affect anyone, of any age, background, or socioeconomic status. It does not discriminate. Today, substance addiction affects more than 20 million Americans over the age of 12. However, every person experiences addiction differently. Individual experiences will depend on factors like their mental health, life circumstances, and drug(s) of choice. Similarly—how long they have been using, how often they use, and the severity of their dependence.
These conditions also impact a person’s treatment and recovery. While the addiction recovery is typically seen as a step-by-step process, the stages of recovery are not always linear. Everyone responds to treatment differently, works through recovery at their own pace, and has different experiences along the way. Some people move in and out—or even repeat—certain stages of recovery from addiction. And that is okay. What works for one person may not work the same for another.
However, there are some commonalities in the recovery process. Most people follow a progression through recovery, in order to achieve and sustain a sober life. Below, we detail the key stages of recovery, as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These are also known as the five stages of change in recovery.
The Early Stages of Recovery
The early stages of recovery from addiction typically involve some level of contemplation and awareness. In this stage, a user might have mixed feelings about ending their substance use and seeking professional help. They may be contemplating recovery, but are unsure if they are ready to commit to it long-term. Some individuals may be unsure if they really need treatment at all.
Often, those who are struggling with substance addiction do not begin recovery on their own. It is typically a friend or family member, or a legal or health mandate, that requires them to seek help and make real changes in their lives. As a result, it is common for clients to be resistant to treatment, or to have a wavering perception of recovery, during these early stages.
Treatment experts define three possible, early stages of recovery. These include:
This encompasses people who are not yet ready to get help for their addiction. They may be unaware of their substance abuse problem and the negative effects it is having on their life. As a result, they have not yet contemplated recovery.
Contemplation is the next phase of recovery, in which a person is contemplating their readiness to begin the recovery process. This person typically recognizes the issues caused by their substance use, and has a desire to change their life. However, this person also is dependent on drugs or alcohol, and unsure if they are truly prepared to make a change.
Preparation often follows contemplation, and means that a person’s desire to change is increasing. Their willingness and readiness to get sober is becoming more urgent. They may have even started making other positive changes, such as exercising or seeking a counselor. However, they do not yet have the tools or skills to begin a life drug-free. They are prepared to begin recovery, but must seek the professional resources to take meaningful action.
During the early stages of recovery from addiction, treatment is focused on changing perceptions and laying the groundwork for each individual’s success. Specifically, early treatment is all about achieving sobriety, preventing relapse, and learning how to manage drug cravings.
The Middle Stage of Recovery
The middle stage of recovery from addiction is also known as the “action” stage. This is because it is the time in which a user decides to take action, make changes, and (typically) enter a treatment program. At this point in the recovery process, the individual is committed to achieving abstinence.
The action stage is the period in which a person commits to change. They actively make changes in their lives, such as enrolling in a rehab program or establishing an exercise routine. Their mental health, physical health, and life circumstances begin to see improvements. They have prolonged periods of sobriety, and are more open and willing to asking for help during times of need.
While the action phase is a major milestone in recovery, it is important to note that the changes made must be sustained. Professional treatment and therapy is needed to maintain recovery and a sober life.
The Late Stage of Recovery
Thus, we enter the later stage of recovery from addiction: ongoing maintenance. During this stage of recovery, individuals are less focused on the getting sober and preventing relapse. Rather, they are focused on the steps required to live a sober, healthy, and productive life. Often, this requires a look inside themselves, to understand the root causes of their addictive behaviors.
- Ongoing Maintenance:
Ongoing maintenance is typically completed alongside a clinical professional, such as a therapist or counselor. With this support, the person in recovery can truly focus on improving their mental and emotional health, and learn how to cope with the ongoing triggers in their everyday lives. This is required to maintain a lasting recovery. Individuals may focus on resolving guilt, mending relationships, reducing shame, accepting themselves, prioritizing self-care, and building confidence.
At the same time, ongoing maintenance is all about sustaining the healthy behaviors adopted during the action phase. Those in this stage of recovery are continuing to get regular exercise, establish good sleeping patterns, eat healthy, attend support groups, and maintain a drug-free lifestyle.
Ongoing maintenance is the period in which a person is solidifying changes in their lives, and establishing a foundation for their life ahead, in recovery.
Addiction Recovery is Possible
Recovery from addiction is possible, no matter where you are right now. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. Even people with severe and chronic substance use disorders can, with help, overcome their illness and regain health and social function.”
However, it’s important to remember that recovery is not the end of your journey. Completing the stages of recovery is just the first step, enabling you to enter a life in recovery. Being “in recovery” means that you have adopted positive changes and values (such as stopping drug use, prioritizing your mental health, and/or finding healthy coping mechanisms), and voluntarily made them a part of your lifestyle. Although making those initial changes may feel challenging and overwhelming right now, being in recovery can bring many amazing benefits to your life.
We can help you get there. If you or a loved one is battling a substance abuse problem, Turnbridge can help you on the path towards recovery. Learn about our substance use treatment programs for young men and women online, or contact 877-581-1793 today to speak with our support staff.