You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s well worth repeating: The ways in which your recovery progresses will be different from anyone else’s. Just as your treatment was tailored specifically for you, you can expect that the pace of your recovery will be depend a lot on how you “work it,” your emotional and psychological state of mind, your physical condition, the strength of your support network, whether or not you’re employed and other factors.
In other words, while you can look at how others are doing — perhaps friends you make in 12-step groups or those you’ve met in treatment, if you went through a program — you really can’t compare your recovery to theirs. One person may be getting past a short stint of marijuana abuse and occasional gambling. Another may be a chronic, long-term alcoholic who also suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and depression. And although each person’s journey will be unique, there are certain stages and transitions that most everyone will go through at some point as they learn to live a life of sobriety, day in and day out.
What is Recovery?
First, though, it’s worth taking a look at the definition of “recovery.” The very word is the center of much debate in the addiction community; some say it’s simply abstinence or remaining sober, while others believe it’s a lot more complex and multi-dimensional. There’s controversy over whether someone is truly in recovery if they’re on maintenance medication, such as methadone and suboxone, and/or if he/she can be in recovery if they use in moderation without harmful consequences after a sustained period of sobriety. The 12-step community often claims the term “in recovery” as its own, referring to a person who is in recovery and abstinent but not “in the program” as a “dry drunk,” or someone who has stopped drinking or drugging but has not made the psychological and emotional changes necessary to achieve a complete recovery.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Commission (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential.” SAMHSA lists four signs that let individuals know they are in recovery, including:
- I can address problems as they happen, without using, and without getting stressed out.
- I have at least one person I can be completely honest with.
- I have personal boundaries and know which issues are mine and which ones belong to other people.
- I take the time to restore my energy — physical and emotional — when I am tired.
The Stages of Recovery
There’s also no universal agreement on the stages of recovery from addiction. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes the stages of recovery as early abstinence, maintaining abstinence and advanced recovery. Another widely used model, the “Developmental Model,” identifies six stages, including transition; stabilization; early, middle and late recovery and maintenance.
For the sake of simplicity and clarity, on Addiction.com you’ll find that the site parses recovery into three broad stages. As mentioned earlier, these are not universally agreed upon within the addiction community, so you may hear about other stages. Addiction.com simply aims here to address the main stages and transitions that most people in recovery go through, while also recognizing that many people will travel through these stages more than once, if they slip/relapse, for example. These three stages of recovery are: