Recovery is a personal process, and each stage has its developmental milestones to reach the next stage, as well as its risks of relapse. There is not an individual set amount of time for the stages, as recovery is just as individualized as the addiction to drugs or alcohol. There are generally three stages of recovery: abstinence, repair, and growth.
The abstinence stage occurs in a person suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD) immediately following quitting the substance. This stage can last from one to two years. The central part of this stage is dealing with cravings and not returning to using substances. Some of the goals of the abstinence stage include:
- Acceptance of having an addiction
- Practicing honesty
- Developing coping skills to deal with cravings
- Becoming active in self-help groups
- Practicing self-care
- Practicing saying “no.”
- Learning and understanding the stages of relapse
- Cutting off relationships with those who are using
- Understanding the dangers of cross-addiction
- Dealing with post-acute withdrawal, which involves emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms and is a common cause of relapse
- Developing healthy alternatives to using drugs or alcohol
- Seeing oneself as a non-user of substances
In the abstinence stage, there are multiple risks to recovery. Physical cravings can last up to a few weeks, depending on the drug used. Poor self-care, wanting to use one last time, and struggling with accepting there is an addiction are all risks to recovery from SUD. Significant changes, such as quitting a job or ending a relationship, should be avoided for the first year until one gains a better perspective and obtains a clearer picture of oneself.
The abstinence stage is characterized as improving physical and emotional self-care. Those in recovery are in a hurry to skip the goals of this stage and move onto what they believe are the real issues. However, lacking self-care is what led to the addiction in the first place, so continuing this behavior will lead back to substance abuse. As one progresses through the abstinence stage, they feel increasingly better and can take more control over their lives.
The second stage of recovery is the repair stage. The main goal of this stage is to repair the damage caused by the addiction. This stage typically lasts for two to three years. Those recovering from a SUD in this stage may feel temporarily worse than they did in the abstinence stage because they have to face the damage that was done by the addiction to their self-esteem, employment status, financial stability, and relationships. Dealing with overcoming guilt is also a part of the recovery stage that is hard. Sometimes the damage felt by the person recovering from the SUD makes them feel as if they can no longer have healthy relationships, confidence, or joy in their lives. Some of the goals of the repair stage include:
- Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to overcome negative self-esteem and irrational negative thoughts
- Understanding that addiction does not define someone
- Repairing relationships and making amends
- Feeling comfortable with feeling uncomfortable
- Improving self-care and making it a priority
- Developing a healthy and balanced lifestyle
- Continuing engagement in self-help groups
- Developing healthy alternatives to using substances
In the repair stage, risks to recovery include poor self-care and not attending self-help groups. Establishing a support system while also supporting and believing in oneself is crucial to this stage of recovery. This stage is about catching up with recovery and a healthy lifestyle.
The growth stage is characterized by developing skills that were not learned and led them to addiction susceptibility. This stage is about moving forward with one’s life. This stage typically starts within three to five years after abstaining from drugs or alcohol and is a path that will last a lifetime. This is the time to deal with any issues or past traumas that may have originated the road to addiction. Dealing with issues too soon in recovery without having the coping skills established to deal with them can lead to relapse. Some of the goals in the growth stage include:
- Identifying and repairing negative thinking and patterns of self-destruction behaviors
- Understanding how negative patterns in one’s family are passed down, dealing with those resentments, and moving forward
- Challenging fears with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques for the mind and the body
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Beginning to give back and help others
- Periodically re-evaluating one’s lifestyle and checking that oneself is on the right track of recovery
The tasks in the growth stage are similar to the daily tasks that those without SUDs face in life. When those without SUDs fail at developing healthy life skills, they may be unhappy in their lives. When those with SUDs who are in recovery fail at developing healthy life skills, they also may be unhappy in their lives, but they can also lead back to relapse. Primarily, relapse in the growth stage deals with becoming complacent or overly content with one’s recovery. Relapse risks in the growth stage include:
- Denial that an addiction existed
- Not attending self-help groups regularly
- Focusing less on self-care
- Taking on too many responsibilities
- Ignoring cravings and not addressing those feelings
- Having a false sense of being able to control a relapse.
Looking for Help?
Understanding addiction to drugs or alcohol is imperative to overcoming the disease. The development of an addiction is a different path for every individual suffering from a substance use disorder, as is the recovery from the addiction. Moving through the stages of recovery is a life-long process. At Fort Worth Recovery, we understand that addiction to drugs or alcohol is individualized, and we offer a safe space to instill and nurture hope for the future. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 817-381-9741 or visit us online.