What Are the Stages of Addiction Recovery?

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Addiction recovery is a long and difficult struggle, and while it is certainly worth it in the end, there are times when you may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that although there are ups and downs, the progression during recovery is surprisingly linear. That is, most people follow a sequence of stages of addiction recovery marked by increasing levels of control over one's addiction, until full recovery is achieved. Everyone might follow their own timeline, but almost all will pass through these stages during recovery.

It is worth noting that "stages" as defined here are distinct from "steps" as you may see many formal programs. A "12-step" program, for instance, may provide a roadmap with discrete tasks and milestones to achieve. However, the following stages of addiction recovery are high-level states, and should be present in just about every recovery program, regardless of how they are distributed among the steps.

So what are the stages of addiction recovery?

They fall into four general periods: initiation of treatment, early abstinence, maintaining abstinence, and finally, advanced recovery.

1. Treatment Initiation

Marked by irritation, denial, and ambivalence, this is the stage where you have just begun seeking help, either on your own or at someone else's insistence, and may still believe your problem is not as bad as others or that you may not need to follow the program through to the end.

Try to accept that you are in treatment, for better or worse, and resolve to make the most of it. Also remember not to sit on your laurels; even though acknowledging your addiction and agreeing to treatment may be the hardest things you've had to do, recovery is itself an energy-draining act of will. Face it head on for best results.

2. Early Abstinence

You enter the early abstinence stage when you agree, either explicitly or to yourself, to continue treatment with a final goal of recovery. For many, this is the hardest of the stages, as you will be beset by cravings and temptations, any one of which can trigger a relapse.

This is also, however, when you first begin learning concrete coping skills and developing a support network that will take you through the recovery process.

3. Maintaining Abstinence

If you are currently in a residential treatment center, this stage is defined by your moving back home and continuing treatment as an outpatient. Typically, the third stage occurs after about 90 consecutive days of abstinence, and will continue for about five years of sobriety, at which point outpatient counseling will cease.

The teaching portion of this phase will focus on the warning signs of relapse and how to prevent it. Additional topics will address building and maintaining healthy relationships, managing anger and anxiety, finding and keeping a job, and other subjects relating to re-building your life outside rehab.

4. Advanced Recovery

Addictions are rarely said to be "cured". Instead, after five years of sobriety, you enter advanced recovery. You are no longer receiving active counseling, though you may still be in contact with a support network. You have acquired and mastered the skills needed to remain sober, healthy, and productive. You may still be tempted from time to time, so this stage is not an end to the struggle, but in this stage, you have the confidence to know that you have mastered the addiction and will no longer allowed it to control you.

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