What Does it Mean to Be in Recovery

The word “recovery” is used quite liberally in both the mental health and addiction treatment fields. For those involved in those fields the term likely makes perfect sense, but to someone new to the vernacular it may seem oblique or confusing. What exactly does it mean to be “in recovery” anyway?

Understanding Addiction as a Disease

One of the most significant and helpful developments in the treatment of addiction was the realization that it functions as both a physiological and psychological disease in the brain. While substance abuse may start off as a choice a person makes to get high, over time the chemistry and physical characteristics of the brain is changed. Neural pathways, the microscopic electronic highways that connect emotions, thoughts, and actions, are changed by addiction. A certain experience, such as physical pain, emotional distress, or even boredom, triggers an almost reflexive response in the brain that causes the person to seek relief by drinking or using drugs. Addiction overrides the brain’s ability to make conscious decisions related to self-control. This is why addicts find themselves using even when they desperately want to stay clean.

Once doctors and mental health experts understood the disease nature of addiction, a new treatment paradigm emerged. Instead of focusing on the relatively simple process of detoxifying the addict’s body, treatment expanded to include the following techniques that allow the addict to become more aware of the triggers that cause him to seek relief through substance abuse:

  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Motivation
  • Strategizing for long-term sobriety

The goal changed, then, from enforcing abstinence to allowing the addict to heal. The underlying belief is that when the proper treatment techniques are applied, an addict can recover the following critical skills:

  • The ability to tolerate distress or discomfort
  • Delaying gratification
  • The ability to think before acting
  • Cultivating a habit of accountability with trusted partners
  • Being aware of, and concerned about, the effects one’s actions have on others

Like a victim of nerve damage would work to recover his ability to walk, or the victim of a head injury may work to recovery lost memories, addicts in rehab work to recover control over their actions and emotions.

What Does Recovery Look Like?

There are two basic phases of recovery:

  • Active Treatment is the time spent in a residential program where the addict is removed from the pressures and temptations of daily life and allowed to focus all energy and attention on the healing process
  • Aftercare often involves ongoing individual or family counseling, support group meetings, continuing education, and involvement in social activities that support and promote a sober lifestyle

Many addicts, understanding that the addictive behavior patterns remain imprinted in the subconscious part of their brain, accept that they will be “in recovery” for the rest of their lives. To be in recovery means to be mindful, to be connected with a support group, to be involved in meaningful relationships with fellow recovery patients, and to do whatever is necessary to avoid relapse.

24 Hour Recovery Information Helpline

If you would like more information about what it means to be in recovery, or would like to be connected with the most effective and transformational recovery resources available, please call our toll-free helpline today. The call is confidential and free and there are no strings attached.

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