Recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol can be an incredibly challenging experience to combat. It takes readiness and the right help, but it can be done. It’s especially important to not to leave treatment too early. You need proper treatment from an addiction aftercare program so that you can build a solid foundation for your sobriety.
“’I fell in love with feeling nothing at all’ That’s the best way I can put it. I had attempts to be sober in the past, none that were successful because I refused to work on myself. I was homeless. Sick. Broken. But mostly I was tired. Tired of living. Tired of using. Tired of crying over the toxic relationship I was in. Sometime around Christmas, I finally had enough and called my friend Sean after using the only vein I had left that wasn’t blown, which happened to be right where my Mom’s death date was on my tattoo.
That moment and that phone call ultimately changed my life. I flew down to detox for the sixth time and, for the first time, I stuck it out. I separated from my ex and came back to Foundations. This time was different. I didn’t argue about my two-week extension of PHP. I didn’t give up and go home as I was known to do. I cried a lot and wanted to give up multiple times, because numbing the pain was easier than working through it. Instead, I plugged in. I kept myself right in the middle of the winners. I worked hard on myself – and it was not easy.
Today, I woke up in my own bed. I turned on the lights (because we pay our bills today) and realized how blessed I truly am. Sobriety isn’t all peaches and cream – there are hard days – but I’ve taught myself that as long as I don’t use, things will get better. And they always do. I’m coming up on two years now, and it was all because I got the foundation set while living in Sagamore house that when it was time for me to leave, I could build a beautiful life. My name is Laura and I’m a retired junkie since 12/29/2020.” – August 23, 2022 (Foundations Wellness Center, 2022)
Why Is It Hard to Stop Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder. It causes changes to the brain which heavily impact its functioning. Brain circuits disrupted during substance abuse involve reward, stress, and self-control. In imaging studies of people suffering with addiction, there are clear physical changes to the brain in the areas of decision-making, learning and memory, as well as behavior control.
These changes to the brain can cause a severe lapse in judgment and affirm the compulsive nature of drug and alcohol addiction. The most characterizing behavior of substance use disorder is the compulsive drug seeking and use, despite negative consequences.
This is why the addicted brain is often described as being hijacked. With continued use of drugs or alcohol, the brain is rewired to be able to tolerate a higher level of feel-good chemical dopamine.
As you can see in the brain scans here, the bright color shows dopamine at normal levels. This is substantially faded in those who are withdrawing from alcohol and methamphetamine. In adapting to the flood of dopamine brought on by the substance, the brain stops making as much on its own. The body’s ability to feel natural pleasure is thereby diminished. As a consequence, those in active addiction tend to need more and more of the drug to feel their usual high as tolerance develops.
In fact, this viscous cycle of addiction can mean that individuals are eventually using to feel ok, not necessarily to get high. The memory of the feelings of euphoria and addiction do not go away, even in recovery, so that relapse is something that is always a possibility.
This does not mean that recovery is not possible, however. Thousands of people are living in recovery today. Research shows that the brain does return to normal functioning after a period of sobriety. There is hope!
“Something was different when I went into treatment this time… I was so tired of living and feeling the way I did, I became willing to do absolutely anything I had to do to be clean, happy, and healthy. I decided that, maybe if I put as much energy into my recovery this time around as I did into chasing the next high, I would be successful.
My life for four months was taking EVERY single suggestion from people who were strong in their recovery. Taking suggestions was never for me, but my way never worked. I felt that, in order to succeed, listening to others who have been through it and have changed their lives was what I needed to do.
Now, I am a completely different person inside and out. I have the most clean time that I have ever had. Today, I am happy. Some days aren’t as good as others, but my worst day clean isn’t as bad as my worst day using.” – Alyssa, September 13, 2022 (Foundations Wellness Center, 2022)
Addiction Treatment: 5 Steps to a New Life
Treatment for addiction is not cut-and-dry. Individuals that seek treatment may have other underlying needs such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. A treatment plan will be facilitated by therapists, counselors, medical staff, and case managers to ensure the best route of success on the journey to recovery.
To begin, you only need to reach out for help. Most addiction treatment centers have an outreach staff who are in recovery themselves. They understand where you are, where you need to be, and what you need to get there. Many times, these staff are available 24 hours a day through the treatment center’s admissions line.
5 Stages of Addiction Treatment
1. Pre-Admission Screening
Before entering a treatment facility, you will be screened by phone to determine which level of care is needed first. Questions asked include:
- What is your drug of choice?
- How long have you been using it?
- How frequently have you been using it?
- Have you used any other substances?
- Are you taking any other medications?
- Do you have a diagnosed mental condition?
- Are you experiencing any medical issues?
2. Detox/Res: Detox Plus Inpatient Stay
Detoxification is the process of cleansing the body from drugs or alcohol. This is often done in a controlled setting such as a hospital or a medical detox facility. Withdrawal symptoms can be very intense and require the close monitoring and management of a healthcare professional.
Withdrawing from drugs and alcohol can be mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. The length of time it takes to withdraw from a substance can vary according to certain factors, including:
- The type of drug the user is addicted to – Alcohol and benzodiazepines are the most dangerous drugs to detox from. As well, withdrawal from opiates dan be highly uncomfortable. Detoxing from marijuana, unless it has been laced with other substances, can be less of a challenge.
- The amount of substance consumed
- The method of abuse
- Duration of abuse
- Family history/genetic factors
- Underlying health issues – These may have been present before substance abuse or have developed because of substance abuse.
Making the decision to detox at home can have consequences and is not recommended. For those who do choose to detox at home, it should still be done under medical guidance and supervision. Serious complications such as seizures and severe dehydration can occur when the body is dependent on a substance.
In most cases a two-week (or possibly longer) inpatient program immediately follows detox. This helps to further stabilize clients as well as facilitate a comfortable environment to recover from post-acute withdrawal, a less intensive stage of withdrawal that can still be uncomfortable.
3. Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
The pilgrimage of recovery does not end at the completion of an inpatient treatment stay. In fact, it is just beginning. Detoxing is only the beginning of the journey. Clearing the body of a substance does not fix the psychological impact that substance abuse has left behind nor the underlying reasons it took root in the first place. Further treatment is necessary to understand the disease of addiction, learn how to manage these behaviors, and work towards prevention. Upon leaving an inpatient treatment program, a care plan will be designed to help aid in continued sobriety.
Within this program, or in the next step of partial hospitalization, the addicted individual begins the work needed to build the foundation of a substance-free lifestyle, including:
- Intensive one-on-one counseling to help aid in the understanding of addiction and identifying triggers and emotions.
- Psychiatric evaluation and medication management, if necessary
- Group sessions to build relationships and social and coping skills
- Service to the community, if offered
- Outings to the beach, the park, and other outdoor settings to balance the intensive psychological work
Partial Hospitalization involves full-time treatment of up to 40 hours a week, while staying offsite at home or at a sober living facility. Typical duration is four to six weeks.
4. Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
Intensive outpatient treatment is similar to partial hospitalization treatment. However, it is part time in nature, with up to 19 hours a week spent in individual counseling and group sessions. A typical schedule is 9 am to noon, Monday through Friday. This gives those starting intensive outpatient the time to seek outside employment and resume other commitments, which still receiving substantial support for their recovery. After four to six weeks at five sessions a week of IOP, clients most often step down to three times a week, which can be completed at night.
5. Addiction Aftercare Program
While inpatient programs, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs are amongst the highest levels of care they are not intended to be the end-all and a cure for addiction. At some point individuals coping with the disease of addiction will be fully immersed back into the outside world. For many this means living independently or with family members, returning to work or school, and returning to daily life in general. This can be extremely challenging and overwhelming. At this point in time, sobriety still needs to be the number one goal.
That’s why aftercare is a necessary part of addiction recovery. For many, aftercare includes an outpatient treatment program. As a less intensive step than inpatient, outpatient recovery programs allow for some freedom but still provide individual and group counseling as well as education and much needed support.
- Outpatient Addiction Treatment – Offered at many addiction treatment centers, outpatient addiction treatment is aimed at preventing relapse with one to three hours of counseling per week. Talk therapy is often beneficial for discussing day-to-day challenges, triggers, and urges that may be jeopardizing sobriety. Many individuals coping with addiction also have underlying mental health issues that need managing throughout recovery. Depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health challenges can pose a serious risk to sobriety without care.
- 12-Step Programs – A popular add-on to addiction treatment, 12-step programs can be a place where those in recovery find solace and connection with others who are struggling in a similar way. Available in almost every community and easy to access, 12-step programs allow addicts in recovery to support to one another and provide a structure to maintain sober daily living. These programs can also provide sponsors who aid in understanding and combating addiction on a more personal level – a safe space for discussing challenges and expressing tough emotions that need navigation. Popular 12-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Celebrate Recovery.
- Sober Living – While attending an outpatient treatment program and/or a 12-step recovery program, many individuals also choose to stay in sober living homes. These are like guardrails on your sobriety. Also referred to as a “halfway house,” sober living houses or facilities often make the difference between staying sober and relapsing. Individuals can retain a sense of structure and accountability while assimilating into the outside world again. Often, sober living facilities or homes have their own set of house rules and restrictions to help facilitate a functional and safe household.
Addiction is a Disease
Again, addiction is a disease and a constant battle for those struggling. It is important to recognize that relapse can be a part of this disease, and it does not equate to failure. In fact, between 40 to 60 percent of people in recovery will experience a relapse at some point in their lives. The circumstances surrounding a relapse can point to changes that need to be made in a personalized long-term treatment plan.
Being part of the recovery community is key to preventing future relapse, as well as aftercare. Life is constantly evolving, and we are all always undergoing a continuous process of change. Aftercare helps you to better address the stresses of life as well as deeply rooted behaviors. Having supportive people around you who also prioritize sobriety will help keep you on the right path as well.
Many people, in recovery or not, regularly access the help of qualified mental health professionals to help them live their best life.
Above all, remember: Recovery is a process and a lifelong journey. There is help, and a sober life is possible.
Foundations Wellness Center (2022, October 4). Addiction rehab before and after. Foundations Wellness Center. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from Foundations Wellness Center
Goldstein, R. Z., & Volkow, N. D. (2002, October 1). Drug addiction and its underlying neurobiological basis: Neuroimaging evidence for the involvement of the frontal cortex. American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from Psychiatry Online