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Understanding Addiction and the Recovery Journey

Posted on June 7, 2022

Understanding Addiction and the Recovery Journey

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to a specific substance or behaviour, you will be aware of how pervasive this disorder can be. Addiction can have an effect on every part of your life, and as a result the journey towards recovery also encompasses various factors including mental health, physical health, support systems and employment.

It can be extremely helpful to understand the nature of addiction and the various stages of recovery in order to help you make an informed decision about your treatment, and this article aims to shed some light on the process.

If you would like more advice or guidance in recovering from an addiction, our team at Rehab Recovery are available to talk you through your options in an emphatic and non-judgemental manner.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a physical and/or psychological dependency on a particular substance or behaviour such as alcohol, gambling, heroin or shopping. When you engage in this behaviour or ingest a specific substance, the reward system of the brain is activated leading to feelings of relief, pleasure and euphoria. As a result, you may feel compelled to frequently repeat this behaviour despite any negative repercussions that result from it. [1]

Over time an addiction can have severely detrimental effects on every aspect of your life. Regularly ingesting substances such as drugs and alcohol can take a physical and mental toll on the body, while engaging in gambling or shopping on a habitual basis may drain your finances and leave you in debt.

Many of your close relationships can become strained or fall apart, and it is not uncommon to experience job loss or even legal troubles due to addiction.

Addiction usually happens in cycles, with episodes of remission and relapse. You may find that you go through periods of frequently engaging in addictive behaviours or substances before completely stopping, and this cycle can repeat many times.

What are the signs and symptoms of addiction?

By nature, addiction is often inherently secretive, and many people will go to great lengths to hide the symptoms and effects of this disorder from those around them. This may be due to shame, a fear of being found out or simply denial and avoidance of the problem.

However it is not possible to hide an addiction forever, and over time there are a number of symptoms that can become apparent. Not everyone who is dealing with an addiction will display the same symptoms as they can vary depending on the type of dependency and the individual themselves, but the below physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms can often shine a light on the hidden nature of addiction.

Physical signs and symptoms of addiction

  • Lack of self-care and personal grooming, appearing unwashed and dishevelled
  • Difficulty sleeping, experiencing nightmares and insomnia
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

Psychological signs and symptoms of addiction

  • Fatigue, tiredness and lethargy
  • Often feeling or appearing unwell
  • Appearing agitated and restless
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Having little to no hope for the future
  • Extreme paranoia

Behavioural signs and symptoms of addiction

  • Avoiding friends and family, becoming isolated and withdrawn
  • No longer taking part in activities and social events
  • Poor attendance at school or work
  • Lack of academic or professional achievement
  • Avoiding responsibilities or making decisions
  • Experiencing negative repercussions due to the behaviour or use of substances
  • Attempting to stop engaging in the specific behaviour or ingesting substances but being unable to

There is no shame in struggling with an addiction of any kind, and it’s important to seek professional help and support in order to begin your recovery journey.

The addiction recovery journey

For the majority of people, recovering from an addiction is not as straightforward as simply choosing to stop engaging in a specific behaviour or using a certain substance. They must first come to terms with and acknowledge their addiction while seeking help and applying their new tools to every aspect of their lifestyle.

There are five key stages of recovery that must be progressed through in order to reach long-term abstinence, and most people will be in some form of recovery for a number of years.

The five stages of recovery

Stage 1: Denial

Stage 2: Acceptance

Stage 3: Early abstinence

Stage 4: Continuing abstinence

Stage 5: Advanced recovery

Due to the nature of addiction, many people may not progress through these stages in a linear pattern. Instead, they may switch back and forth between a number of stages before eventually achieving advanced, long-term recovery. [2]

Stage 1: Denial

In this stage, the individual is not prepared to admit to themselves or anyone around them that they have an addiction. They may come up with excuses and reasons as to why their behaviour is rational or simply deny engaging in the behaviour. It is usually their friends and family who attempt to push them towards professional support, and this is often after one or more events that have occurred due to the addiction.

When a person is in denial about their addiction, recovery is immensely difficult – if not impossible. It is necessary for them to move past this stage in order to successfully advance on their recovery journey.

Stage 2: Acceptance

Now that the individual has recognised and accepted that they are struggling with addiction and that this lifestyle and behaviour cannot continue, they are likely to be motivated to make a change.

During this stage they may research treatment options and even proactively take steps to book themselves into a treatment programme, rehabilitation centre, or a series of sessions with a counsellor.

Alternatively, they may allow a friend or family member to take these steps for them. This stage may provide both relief and anxiety – they have accepted that they have little control over their addiction and have surrendered themselves to the idea of recovery, but now have some idea of the long journey ahead.

Stage 3:  Early abstinence

This stage can be extremely difficult and is thought to be one of the most challenging aspects of the recovery journey. The individual will now begin treatment which often involves complete detoxification from the substance or behaviour.

They may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms along with cravings and triggers, and as a result the majority of treatment programmes will offer counselling during this time.

It is recommended that the individual focuses on healthy and fulfilling activities during this time and begins to learn coping mechanisms that they can rely on during stressful or uncomfortable periods that do not involve the substance or behaviour involved in their addiction.

Stage 4: Continuing abstinence

After a period of approximately three months of abstinence, the individual will move to the stage associated with maintaining and continuing their progress. They should continue to attend regular counselling sessions and build up their mental toolkit, predict and plan for any potential triggers and begin tackling other areas of their life that need to be addressed such as employment and finances.

This will allow them to continue their abstinence on a long-term basis and reduce the chances of relapse during this stage of recovery.

This stage primarily involves building a foundation over a number of years that will support their new sober lifestyle, and usually lasts the longest when compared to all other stages.

Stage 5: Advanced recovery

When the individual is able to maintain abstinence for a period of approximately five years they are considered to have progressed to the final stage of recovery, commonly known as advanced recovery.

They will use the coping skills and mental tools acquired from counselling to continue moving forward with their life, building healthy support systems and finding personal joy and satisfaction outside of themselves.

It is important to remember that relapse can occur at any time during the recovery journey, even throughout the final stage of advanced recovery.

How common is relapsing during the recovery journey?

Relapse is extremely common during recovery from an addiction, both during and after treatment. It is estimated that between 40% and 60% of people in recovery experience at least one relapse, and it’s important to remember that this is not the end of your recovery journey.

There are many factors that can lead to a relapse including the lack of a support system, not having an effective aftercare plan in place, being unprepared for your response to potential triggers and not making recovery your top priority. [3] Going forward, see if you can pinpoint a potential reason for your relapse and begin working to ensure that you are prepared next time.

It’s common to feel shame, guilt, regret and frustration after experiencing a relapse. You may believe that you have failed at recovering from your addiction and that there is no point in trying again. Understanding that relapse can be a normal part of the recovery journey can go some way in alleviating these feelings and motivating you to keep going.





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