What is recovery from addiction?

addiction recoveryWhat is recovery from addiction? Most people would say recovery is when someone who has a problem with alcohol or other drugs quits drinking or doing drugs, but this isn’t near all that constitutes recovery. In Alcoholics Anonymous there are those who say they are recovering alcoholics and those who say they are recovered alcoholics. Recover-ing suggests an ongoing process, while recover-ed speaks to a present altered state. I can see both perspectives. Recovery from addiction is a long-term, ongoing process that has to be managed, but at some point in recovery the recovering person no longer experiences what Bill Wilson called a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Wilson was referring to the first hundred members of AA who had “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body”. Many people in recovery latched onto the word “recovered” and it created a debate. What Bill Wilson likely meant is that in recovery, if you are changing and practicing the principles of recovery in all your affairs, you will not feel like a hopeless drunkard. You will recover from that seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.

When a person is abstinent from all mood-altering drugs, they’re ready for recovery, but they haven’t recovered. And even when a recovering addict gets to the point they’ve recovered from the seemingly hopeless state of mind, they have to continue managing their recovery or they’ll likely slide back to old mental states, and start frequenting old play grounds, and associating with old drinking and drug using buddies that often lead to relapse.

In treatment, we don’t cure people of addiction — we prepare people who have a problem with alcohol or other drugs for recovery. We provide the necessary education and therapy for a person to apply what they’ve learned to their recovery over a long period of time, maybe the rest of their lives. This doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for outcomes, because what we as professionals provide in treatment and what we recommend for ongoing recovery are important.

It’s natural to think of lifetime recovery as a huge burden, but it’s not a burden. In fact, recovery should enhance a person’s life and lead to healthy and enjoyable living. Recovery should add quality years to a person’s life. Alcohol and other drugs are poisonous when used in large amounts over a long period of time, so when a person is not putting poison in their system on a regular basis, they feel better — when a person pays attention to their mental and emotional state, seeking balance and happiness, they should have higher self-esteem ad a positive outlook on life — when a person is seeking to develop healthy and honest relationships, then that person’s life is richer and fuller — when a person exercises and eats good food, their body feels stronger and more energetic, and they think more clearly. These are some of the actions that constitute recovery management, and they aren’t burdensome, they are life-saving and life-enhancing.

Recovery and Environment

addiction and recoveryWhen I worked in an inpatient addiction treatment facility in the 80s, when patients were admitted they were isolated from outside influences, especially alcohol and other drugs. The idea at the time was to remove all external distractions so the patient could immerse themselves in treatment. This wasn’t necessarily a bad idea for the beginning of treatment, but most patients were isolated for about 30 days with no outside contact, and counselors tended to forget about the environment to which the patient would return at discharge. Well, the counselors didn’t quite forget, because a discharge plan was developed to recommend aftercare actions, like attending AA or NA, but there wasn’t enough preparation for the patient to adjust to the environment. There also wasn’t a good understanding of how the environment affects recovery. We all made the mistake of placing too much importance within the person for achieving their own recovery. Just because a month of isolation and immersion in recovery produces marked change in an individual, this doesn’t mean that the change will last once the person returns to their environment. If alcohol and other drugs are present, and if there is no understanding among the people closest to the recovering individual, then recovery can be sabotaged.

It’s true that the individual has to take actions or nothing happens, but it’s also true that if family members, employers and friends don’t have a good understanding of addiction and recovery, they can have a very negative affect on an individual’s recovery. If alcohol and other drugs are always present in the recovering person’s environment, then it will be hard to resist using them again. Treatment providers gradually understood the importance of bringing the employer, family, family physician, friends and anyone else critical to the recovering person into the recovery process. We know now that recovery is a long term process that requires a plan, support from the family and community, and ongoing learning regarding what’s necessary for recovery from addiction. No one is obligated to support anyone else in recovery, but most people will are eager to support someone they care about if they’re informed about the condition and what it takes to manage recovery.

%d bloggers like this: