How to Recover from Addiction: Can You Ever Fully Recover?

Posted on December 29, 2023

journey to recovery sign

How to recover from addiction is a question that resonates with many individuals caught in the throes of this challenging journey. It can often feel like you’re navigating the depths of struggle all alone, and the weight of those demons might seem overwhelming.

But the statistics tell a much different story — one of widespread addiction across the country. The 2020 study “National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” discovered more than 40 million individuals who were 12 years old or older experienced addiction issues. These issues, known as substance use disorders, occurred within the previous year. To provide some context to that number, that equates to 14.5% of the population.

The addiction statistics are broken down as follows:

  • 28.3 million people had a problem with alcohol.
  • 18.4 million people had issues with illegal drugs.
  • 6.5 million people struggled with both alcohol and illegal drugs.

If you or someone you love falls within those numbers, don’t lose hope.

Studies indicate that around 75% of those seeking recovery from substance use have either achieved recovery from addiction or are in the process. Despite this, we acknowledge that everyone’s recovery definition varies.

This brings us to the question we aim to address in this article: How can you fully recover from addiction?

Defining Substance Use Disorder

Before we delve into addiction and recovery, let’s first define substance use disorder.

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (mentioned above), substance use disorders:

“…are characterized by impairment caused by the recurrent use of alcohol or other drugs (or both), including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”

The survey determined the number of individuals aged 12 or older with at least one substance use disorder in the past 12 months. Respondents were asked about alcohol and illicit drug use, and a substance use disorder diagnosis required the indication of two or more of 11 criteria.

These criteria encompass expected behaviors, like exceeding planned substance use, inability to stop, and dedicating time, effort, and money to obtain more of the addictive substance.

What Addiction Does to the Body

Overcoming a substance use disorder is particularly challenging due to the toll addiction takes on the body.

During this struggle, the brain undergoes the most significant changes. This is crucial, considering it is the organ that controls all bodily functions.

Addictions To Good and Bad Things

A noteworthy concept gaining traction in the medical community is that addiction to both drugs and non-substances stems from a common source: the pursuit of feeling good or easing discomfort.

What doctors and researchers now believe is that an addiction to something like gambling or shopping and an addiction to opioids are both essentially harmful attempts at escaping discomfort.

Dopamine: The “Happy Hormone”

Still, the consequences of continued drug use and abuse can be highly destructive. Substance use affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, causing chemical changes and the release of excess levels of dopamine.

Initially, the release of the “happy hormone” (dopamine) may provide a pleasurable sensation. However, over time, the brain develops a tolerance. As a result, you will require increasing amounts of the substance to attain the same level of pleasure. This pursuit of the next “high” is a common pathway leading to the development of many substance use disorders.

In addition to the brain, addiction and prolonged substance use can impact other parts of the body. Heart disease, liver failure, cancer, and kidney failure are some of the most harmful effects internally. Other issues such as acne, skin lesions, and hair loss are also often associated with addiction.

Relapse During Addiction Recovery

Beginning the recovery process is a monumental step toward living a healthy and productive lifestyle. Recovery takes time, and it’s common to relapse while trying to overcome substance use disorder.

Relapse is commonly used to refer to any return to substance use during recovery. However, it is often misunderstood and misused when describing any return to substance use during recovery.

A true relapse usually includes taking larger amounts of the substance or spending a great deal of time obtaining it.

What people often confuse for relapse is actually a slip or a lapse. As the words themselves suggest, this is a temporary setback that includes a return to substance use, but not for a prolonged duration. Still, a lapse can easily progress into a relapse if the person in recovery does not have a firm commitment to living a clean and sober life.

How Many Slips or Relapses Are “Normal” in Recovery?

Research indicates that the average number of attempts before an individual reaches long-term recovery is five. However, we should mention that the median number of attempts was just two. That means outliers who may have severe addictions or several addictions at once are amplifying the numbers.

Further, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 40 to 60% of patients in a drug addiction treatment program will relapse.

Causes of Slips or Relapses

In some cases, this is caused by the biological changes to the body that occur after prolonged use. Other reasons for slips or relapses include:

  • Stress and Pressure: Overwhelming stressors or external pressures can trigger relapses.
  • Lack of Support: Insufficient emotional or social support can make recovery challenging.
  • Environmental Triggers: Exposure to places, people, or situations associated with past substance use.
  • Untreated Mental Health Issues: Unaddressed mental health conditions may contribute to relapses.
  • Overconfidence: Feeling overly confident and underestimating the risk of relapse.
  • Poor Coping Strategies: Ineffective coping mechanisms for managing stress or negative emotions.
  • Boredom and Routine: Monotony and lack of engaging activities may lead to relapse.
  • Social Influence: Influence from friends or acquaintances still engaged in substance use.
  • Negative Emotions: Difficulty managing negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or frustration.
  • Festive Mindset: Associating celebrations or positive events with substance use.
  • Insufficient Aftercare: Inadequate post-treatment support and follow-up care.

Whatever the cause — or the severity of the lapse or relapse — you should know that it’s not an indication of failure.

Addiction Recovery is Similar to Chronic Disease Recovery

The National Institute on Drug Abuse likens treatment for substance use disorders to that of other chronic diseases.

For instance, a patient with hypertension may lower their blood pressure and improve their health by exercising regularly, reducing the sodium in their diet, and stopping smoking. But when they discontinue those behaviors, their symptoms will likely reoccur.

The same can be said for steps taken to overcome a substance use disorder, such as entering a treatment program and committing to cognitive behavioral therapy.

What are the Signs of a Relapse?

The most obvious indication that an individual has relapsed is when you directly witness their substance use. But as you know, people with substance use disorders are often very skilled at using in secret.

Other signs of relapse include sudden change in priorities, isolation, restlessness, irritability, and withdrawal from loved ones.

How to Help a Person Who Relapses

If you come across someone who you believe has relapsed, the first thing to do is remove them from the situation. Then, monitor them for signs of intoxication or overdose.

If the person is undergoing treatment, inform their counselor of the relapse. Also, offer help you’re willing to give, like supporting them through detox or arranging transportation to a suitable place.

Perhaps most importantly, make it abundantly clear how much you care for the person and that you’re there to help.

Is It Possible to Fully Recover from Addiction?

man running on road with recovery written on itAs mentioned above, the road to recovery after a substance use disorder can be long and tenuous. However, for those dedicated to their journey, recovering from addiction is indeed possible.

Luckily, addiction isn’t a lifelong sentence. Living a fulfilling life after battling a substance use disorder is still possible.

Life Gets Better After Recovery

In a landmark study on Americans who successfully resolved an alcohol or drug problem, researchers discovered that quality of life significantly improved. Additionally, psychological distress decreased as their recovery prolonged.

Moreover, around 80% of individuals achieved at least one significant milestone in self-improvement, family engagement, civic, and economic participation after overcoming substance use disorders. These accomplishments included purchasing a home, pursuing further education, and building successful careers. All of these actions can contribute to long-term happiness.

In the same study, David Eddie and John Kelly, both from the Recovery Research Institute and Harvard Medical School, shared more insights. They authored an article for STAT titled “People recover from addiction. They also go on to do good things.” In this health, medicine, and life sciences news outlet, Eddie and Kelly emphasize that addiction is highly treatable.

They wrote, “These results challenge commonly held beliefs about the nature of substance use disorder as a constantly recurring condition with little room for improvement. The reality is that this disorder has a good prognosis and is typified by significant improvement over time in recovery.”

They pointed out that the longer someone stays in recovery, the more likely they are to achieve things. This increase in achievements reflects how successful they are in improving their quality of life, leading to even more accomplishments.

Recovery Heals The Brain

While research in this field is somewhat limited, studies have demonstrated that brains damaged by years of addiction can indeed recover and be healed.

If you compare an image of a healthy brain to that of someone who has misused methamphetamine, the differences are stark.

However, if you compare that same healthy brain to the brain of an individual who has been abstinent from methamphetamine for 14 months, researchers can observe a significant restoration of dopamine transporter levels in the brain’s reward region.

Brain Hypoxia and Impulse Control

Despite promising research, brain function affected by prolonged substance abuse may still result in behavioral consequences. This is particularly evident in terms of impulse control.

For example, brain hypoxia is often a side effect of opioid overdoses. Hypoxia occurs when the brain receives inadequate oxygen and can lead to long-term impairment. Additionally, substances with neurotoxic effects may heighten the risk of neurological conditions in aging individuals, further influencing impulse control.

It’s important to remember, also, that addiction is a chronic condition that can never be “cured.” People can achieve long-term recovery and have minimal cravings for addictive substances. As a result can live productive lives while maintaining sobriety.

No matter the substance, recovering from addiction is hard. As any treatment center counselor will tell you, it is not a one-and-done event. It is a lifelong process, and the only way to successfully recover from an addiction is to make it a priority every day.

The Importance of Undergoing Treatment for Addiction

Quitting substances suddenly without help from professionals has a low chance of success due to the nature of addiction. Not only does the “cold turkey” method lack efficacy, but it can also be dangerous.

Side Effects of Going “Cold Turkey”

Abruptly quitting addictive substances can cause harmful side effects during the detox process.

These may include seizures, irregular heart rhythms, and even death. Even those fortunate enough to avoid severe side effects are likely to experience discomfort. This discomfort may manifest as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, shaking, and muscle aches.

A safer and more effective option is enrolling in a substance use disorder treatment program. These programs help clients address their health holistically.

Various types of treatment programs are available, each offering varying degrees of oversight tailored to addictions across the severity spectrum.

Following are some addiction recovery treatment program options.

  • Inpatient Treatment Program: The most intensive and strict level of care where patients reside on-site at a facility and are monitored around the clock. This is known as residential treatment.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program: Patients don’t live at the facility but must attend several days per week for most of the day.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program: Ideal for those comfortable balancing treatment with a job or family life.
  • Outpatient Treatment: The least strict of the treatment tiers, with patients maintaining their independence and visiting the facility just a few hours each week.

It’s also common for patients to progress to the less intensive programs as they work their way through recovery.

Tailored Treatment and Key Elements in Recovery Programs

As the National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “No single treatment is appropriate for everyone.” Treatment options should be tailored to the patient’s specific needs and circumstances. However, some common threads occur in most treatment plans for substance use disorders.

Most centers will begin by performing clinical assessments to gauge the severity of a person’s addiction. These findings are used to help develop the patient’s treatment plan.

Therapy is a significant part of addiction treatment. Patients often engage in both individual and group sessions within the framework of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Therapists and treatment center staff also address strategies to repair relationships affected by addiction with friends and family members

The Importance of an Aftercare Plan

An essential component of substance use disorder treatment is crafting an aftercare plan. This plan outlines how the client will strive to achieve their life goals.

Frequently, aftercare plans involve continued participation in 12-step meetings, support groups and counseling. Additionally, contributing by sponsoring someone new to recovery is often part of these plans.

Being an active participant in recovery is a reason for celebration and recognition. It represents a new opportunity and a chance for a fresh start. Gratitude plays a critical role in the recovery process and preventing relapse. We encourage individuals on their recovery journey to express thankfulness for each day.

Summary of How To Recover From Addiction

You might come across different success rates for treatment centers online, but analyzing them can be tricky due to numerous variables. These rates vary based on the substance or the time since completing treatment.

The primary goal of entering treatment is to stop substance use, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. We aim for clients to achieve mental, physical, and spiritual health, build or rekindle valuable relationships, engage in substance-free hobbies, and enhance performance at work or school.

To summarize a path for how to recover from addiction it would include:

  • Tailored Treatment Plans: An individualized plan that addresses the patient’s unique needs.
  • Clinical Assessments: Initial evaluations to gauge the severity of addiction.
  • Therapeutic Approaches: Engaging in cognitive-behavioral therapy through individual and group sessions.
  • Aftercare Planning: Creating a post-treatment strategy for life goals, including ongoing support.
  • Holistic Health Goals: Emphasis on mental, physical, and spiritual well-being beyond stopping substance use.

Addiction treatment facilities focus on equipping patients with tactical skills to end substance use and achieve significant life goals. This benefit surpasses what quitting cold turkey can offer.

Rising Phoenix Wellness Services Helps People Overcome Addiction

We are a licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program in Scottsdale, Arizona. We have extensive experience in assisting those who need help the most. We have built a welcoming and nurturing environment, which provides a unique approach to treatment. We cater to both substance use and the psychological issues buried deep beneath the addiction.

We believe dual-diagnosis treatment is the most effective way to set patients up for prosperity. We do this within the pillars that make up our lives, including our health, community, society, finances, and culture. Our comprehensive programs provide addiction solutions that promote lasting recovery.

Clients in our program receive drug and alcohol tests up to twice a week, which we feel helps patients prioritize their health and ensures accountability.

If you or a loved one needs help and is seeking addiction solutions, we have an admissions advisor available 24-7 to assist and answer any questions you may have. Contact us when you’re ready to begin the road to recovery.

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