I am of the belief that once a person is addicted (especially if they are in stage 4 of addiction), they will be an addict for life.

This is mostly because the brain changes that occur during addiction quickly rebound back to the original dysfunction in about 3 days during a relapse. Basically this translates to: If you pick up and use again, you will be back in the same position (within 3 days) as you were when you stopped using.

In AA, they say “you pick up where you left off.”

BUT…. I DO BELIEVE THAT WE RECOVER AND RECOVERY HAPPENS IN STAGES!

I have heard people talk about a “spiritual experience.” This is usually referred to as a specific point in time when the individual has a moment of clarity and then “the desire” is just sort of magically lifted. I do believe that does happen, but for the most part, breaking an addiction is more of a process.

  • Stage 1: Detox the brain.

Acute detox usually takes 5-7 days, but post-acute withdrawal can last up to a year. I usually tell my clients that they will feel physically horrible for the first week and emotionally crazy the second week. Every day after that usually get a little better.

  • Stage 2: Develop new patterns.

This will take some time! You are going to need a minimum of 90 days to start developing new patterns and habits. This is why you so often hear people recommend 90 meetings in 90 days. In this stage, the person needs to develop new routines, new friends, and new coping mechanisms.

  • Stage 3: Develop improved relationships.

Generally the individual will be working on “cleaning up messes” (fixing relationship problems that occurred during their drinking/using time). This can take years, but working through these relationship issues is key to long standing recovery because these old relationship resentments, hurts, and insecurities can be a HUGE trigger for relapse. If you take a systematic approach at this, I would estimate it to take about a year or so.

  • Stage 4: Become a better person.

Most people have no idea that recovery has very little to do with “stopping drinking and drugging.” It is about changing who you are, how you feel, and what you bring to the world.  When you can become a person that you respect, it goes a long way toward filling up that empty void that you were trying to fix with chemicals. Becoming a better person is a lifelong journey and it is about “progress not perfection.”

I’m not trying to imply that it takes a lifetime to “break an addiction” but I am saying that recovery is a lifelong process.

Breaking the addictive cycle is just the beginning. The rest is about developing a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life.

WORD TO THE WISE:  When I say “break an addiction,” I am referring to a program of abstinence (sobriety) from all mood and mind altering chemicals.  As long as you are still ingesting chemicals, it is not likely that you can do these things in a healthy manner consistently anyway.