The Process of Overcoming Addiction is overwhelming. There is no effective treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism that does not focus on abstinence as its primary objective. People suffering from addiction have a high probability of complete recovery if they undergo supervised treatment for their condition. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), between 50 and 60 percent of addicts and alcoholics remain abstinent after a year of treatment if they participate in post-detoxification programs to assist them in maintenance of their sobriety. People with little or no social support, a lack of social motivation, or psychiatric disorders are prone to relapse, but even these people can manage to stay clean and dry for sustained periods and demonstrate better health, improved social lives, and higher self-esteem.
Phases of Treatment
- Physical and Mental Healing
- Maintenance of Abstinence
- Adjustment to Sober Living
Detoxification and treatment for withdrawal symptoms may require as little as a few days for alcohol addiction or perhaps as much as a few weeks of intense inpatient supervision for people with dependency on harder drugs. Trained professionals often use a variety of techniques to mitigate shaking, confusion, nervousness, respiratory distress, and hallucinations (delirium tremens). Because abrupt withdrawal can cause severe mental and physical stress, detoxification should never be attempted at home.
Physical and Mental Healing
Many people with chemical dependency have physical problems related to their use of alcohol or drugs. High blood pressure (hypertension), liver disease (jaundice and hepatitis), diabetes and heart disease are common ailments, but these health problems tend to improve significantly when the addict quits using. More troublesome health issues appear when people are addicted to street drugs. Most heroin, crack, and crystal meth users have been exposed to HIV/ AIDS. Medical treatment for these conditions is of paramount importance as part of a program of recovery. Treatment of medical conditions, a proper diet, exercise and adequate sleep are all part of a successful formula for recovery.
Mental healing is far more complex. Alcoholics and drug addicts typically have psychological issues that must be addressed lest they sabotage attempts at recovery. Depression, anxiety, and paranoia are common conditions that accompany chemical dependency. Physicians and trained counselors familiar with addiction are able to diagnose these disorders and determine a course of action for treatment. Counseling may be necessary to treat these conditions. Some begin to improve once drugs are removed from the equation.
Inpatient treatment centers are specifically designed to deal with addiction. These facilities have the professional staff, certified counselors, recovery experts, and a solid infrastructure to help the alcoholic or drug addict through the difficult early stages of recovery. Typically, the process of detoxification, followed by physical and mental stabilization, takes between 3 and 4 weeks. During this period, addicts are introduced to others with common addiction problems in group therapy sessions, and counselors and therapists help addicts learn skills to change harmful behavior patterns. Treatment centers offer a safe, structured environment that eliminates the chaos so prevalent in the lives of addicts. The most successful rehabilitation centers educate recovering addicts in the successful 12 step programs available to them for support when they leave the sanctity of the treatment facility. Some offer aftercare programs to keep recovering addicts and alcoholics in touch with each other in early days of sobriety, and to reinforce abstinence.
Maintenance of Abstinence
When a patient has passed through the first stages of recovery – detoxification and stabilization – they face their most formidable challenge. Free to choose between abstinence and a return to dependent behavior, the newly clean and sober person is prone to relapse without some solid, understanding support. Families, religious organizations, and self-help groups are ill-equipped to deal with issues only understood fully by those who have been through recovery already. Treatment centers assist addicts in understanding the causes and effects of their disease, but they do not have the resources to support sober living in the longer term. Though other theories have had limited success, participation in recognized 12 step programs is the only viable and proven method for sustained sobriety.
Studies conducted by NIH show that one year after successful completion of treatment, a majority of alcoholics and drug addicts relapse without some peer support. By contrast, participants in 12-step programs achieve more sustained abstinence, are more likely to make meaningful contributions to society, and they are able to cope with disturbances in their lives without resumption of alcohol or drug use.
Adjustment to Sober Living
Alcoholics and drug addicts who have recovered from chemical dependency for sustained periods of time (more than 5 years) are likely to maintain lifelong sobriety if they follow a pattern of introspection, self-improvement, and some type of regular spiritual practice. Recovery from alcoholism or other addictions is greatly aided by understanding our motivations, learning from our mistakes, and greater insight into our spiritual core. There is a profound difference between long-term abstinence and sobriety. In the first case, external forces (job, spouse, family, peer group) are sufficient to keep the recovering addict drug and alcohol free. Unfortunately, the desire to use has never gone away. In the second instance, freedom from drugs and alcohol is freedom itself. The whole and healthy person in recovery has found peace and serenity in being clean and sober through a spiritual epiphany.