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What Does Recovery from Alcohol & Drug Addiction Mean?
The book of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Pg. 20).
The book later states, “We have seen the truth repeatedly demonstrated: “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Pg.33).
The book of Alcoholics Anonymous uses the word recovered over twenty times, the word recover almost thirty times, and it only uses the word recovering a few times.
Why is this?
To answer what recovery from alcohol and drug addiction means, we must first look at what, why, when, and how of addiction. Although nobody can answer the question with an exact science of what causes addiction, some things we know are common denominators among addicts and alcoholics. One of these is the behaviors associated with an addict or an alcoholic. The two most observed behaviors are narcissism and antisocial personality.
We are not saying that every addict or alcoholic has a narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder; we are saying that both disorders’ symptoms and behaviors are often present in substance users.
So what does this all mean?
When Alcoholics refer to being recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body and once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, they are saying that you most likely can never use drugs or alcohol successfully again. Narcotics Anonymous has the same beliefs; once an addict, always an addict. Treatment for substance use and twelve steps groups imply that to avoid drinking alcohol or ingesting drugs again, you have to change your perception and your behaviors while addressing your trauma, feelings, thoughts, and past experiences. Addicts and alcoholics use drugs and alcohol because they don’t like how they feel. They are often victims of circumstances while blaming everyone and everything for their problems. The goal of recovery and what recovery means is to change everything you did before that wasn’t working.
“Unbeknownst to families, they aren’t calling us about their loved one’s alcohol and drug use. They call us about the loved ones’ behaviors, the effects of alcohol and drug use on the family and their loved ones, and the inability to address both.“
So what does recovery from alcohol and drug addiction mean?
It means to become unselfish and to see how your actions can and will affect others. Recovery means addressing your past and processing it with others. It is about taking ownership and looking at what you did to put yourself in your position. It means looking at things positively and from a new perspective. It is about humility and letting up on the ego. Recovery is about pausing before reacting, making wrongs right, and not blaming or focusing on what others may have done to you. Recovery is about doing the next right thing when nobody is watching and, above all:
“Recovery is about being able to look in the mirror and say; I am looking at the only problem I will face all day.“
Is it Possible for Alcoholics & Drug Addicts to Recover?
Inevitably, the question of what percentage of alcoholics and drug addicts recover comes up. The book Alcoholics Anonymous, in the forward to the second edition, claims that 50% of people got sober at once, with 25% improving. Although there is no way to verify this with any accuracy, it is still much larger than the estimated 3% or less we hear today. Even more alarming are the methods that classify a successful outcome in this 3%. For example, suppose a harm reduction method considers taking methadone instead of fentanyl or heroin as 1% of this, and the other 1% is success classified as a reduction in drug use or alcohol consumption. In that case, roughly 1% has recovered using the abstinence model. So why are these numbers so low compared to the claims made by Alcoholics Anonymous before 1950; what changed?
Alcoholics Anonymous, at one time, was the only way to recover. In 1952 the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) published by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) listed Addiction as part of the Sociopathic Personality Disturbance. In 1956 the AMA (American Medical Association) declared Alcoholism was an Illness. 1960 Dr. Jellinek published his works on the Disease Concept of Alcoholism. What we have seen occur slowly over time due to this theory is a slow decline in success stories, but why? There is no way to determine if the disease theory harmed or helped recovery efforts. What we do know is alcoholics and those with drug addiction have many things in common, two of those being lack of accountability and blaming everyone or everything else for their problems. So when you imply to someone that their alcoholism or drug addiction is no longer their fault and that they have a disease, it most likely feeds into another common trait among alcoholics and drug addicts: a victim mentality.
With these thoughts and theories, the alleged recovery rates of Alcoholics Anonymous were as high as they were because the program’s core is how to no longer view yourself as a victim and to identify your faults and roles in things that have gone wrong. When you believe something is not your fault, it changes how people approach their recovery efforts. Today’s treatment is all about acknowledging the addict or alcoholic is the most qualified person to know what it is they need. The old school of thought taught the exact opposite; that is when success rates were much higher than today. Before today’s treatment, addicts and alcoholics were held accountable and told to suck it up in the earlier days of getting sober. Today’s therapy encourages the victim’s belief and allows the addict or alcoholic to dictate their next move.
For the record, nowhere in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous does it say alcoholism is a disease. Alcoholics Anonymous refers to alcoholism as a sickness of the mind, an illness of the body, and a spiritual malady. The book repeatedly encourages behavior and psychic change and to identify where you were not and are not the victim at any point. Even in cases where you may have been an actual victim, you are encouraged not to run with that. You are encouraged to consider how to overcome it, even if it means forgiving the one who harmed you.
A last part to note is mental health disorders. Many mental health disorders have symptoms that parallel those of a substance use disorder. Drugs and alcohol can cause drug-induced psychosis. Substance use also causes mental health disorders as much as substance use brings out mental health symptoms. When the clinician or treatment team leads the substance user to believe that their problem is a mental health concern, then the substance user often blames and justifies their alcohol or drug use as a way to cope with their mental illness. There are times when this can be true, and more often than not, the substance user justifies their alcohol and drug use with their mental health disorder, as does their family.
Some reading this may disagree with the Alcoholics Anonymous approach. Either way, even if Alcoholics Anonymous numbers are off by 50% or 75%, they would still be much higher than the addiction recovery rates today. And to answer the question, alcoholics and drug addicts can recover.
To read more about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and how it has changed with today’s treatment, we encourage you to explore our Recovering Alcoholics Resources guide.
How will I know if someone is in Recovery from Alcohol & Drug Addiction?
Families of alcoholics and drug addicts often base addiction recovery on whether or not someone has used alcohol or drugs. Many would claim sobriety when they pick up their yearly sobriety chip, so, understandably, one would gauge recovery by this observation. Alcohol and drugs are not the problem; the behaviors are. Think about people in recovery from a process addiction such as sex or food. They still eat and engage in romantic encounters, so how do they gauge a relapse? They do so by behavior and intent. If Alcoholics and those with drug addiction did the same thing, there would be fewer yearly chips and relapses. That may sound strange; fewer chips, fewer relapses? The point is, if the alcoholic or addict can catch the shift back to destructive behaviors that lead to substance use, this could avoid returning to active substance use.
Anyone inquiring about our intervention services is most likely under the impression the problem with their loved one is an addiction or mental health disorder. The family will soon realize it is true, along with the behaviors associated with the destruction. Abstinence from alcohol and drugs does not mean sobriety; there is a significant difference.
When we do an intervention and bring the family’s loved one to treatment, families often believe the nightmare is over. What they do not realize is the nightmare has just begun. The family will soon see the actual driver of alcoholism and drug addiction. They will experience a side of their loved one they may never have seen. The behaviors and the glaring character defects and shortcomings will intensify with every day of abstinence. The family’s dysfunction will worsen when their loved one enters treatment too, but why?
If drugs and alcohol were the only problems, then just going to detox or a week in jail would solve the problem. If enabling were the only problem for the family system, then not helping their loved one would be the only solution. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and dysfunctional family systems run very deep. The family enables for a reason, and the alcoholic or drug addict uses substances for a reason. Whatever the reason, until addressed, both the addict or alcoholic and their family will inevitably resume back to the only thing they know; active addiction and family dysfunction.
So how do you know if someone is recovering from alcohol and drug addiction? You stop watching their lips, and you start watching their hips. What we mean by this is you no longer listen to the lip service from the alcoholic or addict. Families must start seeing a complete change in their loved one’s behavior, perception, and thinking. People who relapse shortly after treatment do not relapse; they resume. A relapse requires sobriety, a behavior change, and then reverting to the old behaviors that lead to substance use. People in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction who relapse after several years of sobriety do not slip on a banana peel and fall into a bar or a drug house. Their relapses start months and sometimes years before they consume alcohol or drugs again. It all begins with one slipping back into their old thinking and letting go of their recovery program. The fifth phase of recovery is called the maintenance phase. Although we prefer to call it the growth phase, the addict or alcoholic in recovery maintains sobriety for the rest of their lives with the help of evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and 12 Step Facilitation.
“You may not always know when your loved one is using drugs or alcohol, and you will always know when they are not.“
What are the Stages of Alcoholic & Addiction Recovery?
The five stages of addiction recovery, also known as the five stages of change, are explained in the addiction recovery link. You will also find helpful information in the addiction recovery guide that explains relapse prevention, stages of relapse, and common behaviors that are a precursor to relapse.
To summarize the five stages of alcohol and drug addiction recovery, the substance user must move from denial to recognizing a problem; this is the first phase. In the second phase, the substance user has acknowledged a problem, and they see the need for change. The third and fourth phase is when the benefits of quitting become more significant than the benefits of using alcohol or drugs, and the substance user prepares for treatment and takes action to address the problem. In the fifth and final stage, the substance user moves from treatment to ongoing recovery efforts. In this stage, the alcoholic or drug addict continues to grow and strengthen their ongoing recovery efforts with counseling, 12-step facilitation, acquiring a sponsor and sponsoring others, service work, forming a new way of looking at problems and solutions, and letting go of the old way of thinking to embrace a new way of thinking and living.
“The pivotal point is the second stage of change. Until the substance user sees a greater need to address the problem than to stay in the problem, the problem will continue; this is why interventions are so effective. Interventions help raise awareness of the problem for the alcoholic or those with drug addiction to feel the consequences of their behavior and actions.“
How to get Treatment for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction
Families often tell us they feel hope after a conversation with one of our intervention services coordinators. Families also tell us that they have never heard anyone else tell them they didn’t have to wait for their loved one to want help or hit bottom and may become skeptical. Families may call many treatment centers only to be told by an admissions person that there isn’t much they can do unless their loved one wants to come. When we can put it all together for the family, they often realize how the actions of the dysfunctional family system are preventing the substance user from moving out of the second stage of change.
It is infrequent to encounter an alcoholic or someone with an addiction to drugs which can survive by themselves on their own resources. These resources do not even have to be financial. Any emotional, financial, mental, physical, or even spiritual support can be enough to keep a substance user chasing their tail in the second stage of recovery. Some are in complete isolation, and the family has no contact. How can an intervention work when this is the scenario? It can work because the family is provided with the closure that they were able to do everything they could to save their loved one, and they have planted the seed and extended the hand to their loved one to accept help. The loved one is informed that they can contact Family First Intervention or their family for help anytime.
Treatment for Alcoholism and Drug addiction will rarely, if ever, be a first option when enabling, codependency, and dysfunctional family systems are present. Someone indeed has to want help to seek help. We aim to help the family change what prevents their loved one from wanting it. Most people wish for help and are afraid to ask for help or are only willing to do the minimum. Regarding waiting for the bottom, this rarely works because the bottom is not something you hit; it is something you feel. Families may also be preventing their loved one from feeling the bottom through enabling and codependency.
A family intervention brings the family together and resets the stage. Our curriculum seeks to put families back together so they can be healthy and present for their loved ones. Effective communication strategies, understanding family roles, addressing codependency, enabling, and reactivity are just some of the areas we cover. Families who learn how to set boundaries and detach themselves from the addiction find themselves in a much better place to help themselves which in turn supports their loved one. A family of dysfunction cannot be present and provide the effective love and attention necessary to bring their loved one out of the second stage of change. Your loved one wants help; we hope to show you how to offer it effectively.
“Families always say that their loved one does not want help. First, they do want help. Using drugs and alcohol in and of itself tells us they do not like how they feel and do not want to feel this way anymore. Secondly, most do not want help when they do not see the need to seek help or ask for it.“
Please feel free to contact anyone of us at Family First Intervention so we can assess your situation. Hopefully, we can devise a plan to effectively help your family and provide treatment for alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health to your loved one.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
“The most formidable challenge we professionals face is families not accepting our suggested solutions. Rather, they only hear us challenging theirs. Interventions are as much about families letting go of old ideas as they are about being open to new ones. Before a family can do something about the problem, they must stop allowing the problem to persist. These same thoughts and principles apply to your loved one in need of help.”Mike Loverde, MHS, CIP