Recovering from Addiction: The Stages of Recovery

drug addiction

Although there are many prescriptions for recovery and the treatment of addiction, there are essentially just two ways to overcome addiction.

The most common and widely accepted way is abstinence, or the complete stopping of the addictive behavior. In this case, the addict never again engages in the addictive activity.

This applies mostly towards addictions involving alcohol, drugs, and gambling, because it’s impossible in the case of a food addiction, for instance, to never again eat. This leads to the second model for overcoming addiction.

Many addicts are unwilling to give up their addiction. Their goal is to continue their addiction moderately and get it under control, without letting it control them. For a lot of people, this is an unachievable goal and often wishful thinking. For many addicts, recovery requires complete and lifetime abstinence. But for others, moderation and control may be an appropriate and realistic goal.

There may be addictive drinkers, cannabis smokers, and gamblers, for instance, who are able to moderate their use, and in some cases, moderation is the only realistic goal. Food addicts must eat, over spenders must shop, and sexual addicts must have relationships.

In some cases, then, the addiction itself will clearly decide which route must be taken. But in many other cases, it is the addict who will have to decide which route to take.

The Road to Recovery

Just as addiction doesn’t develop overnight, neither do people recover from addiction in a single step.

If successful, people enter recovery at one point and eventually undergo a major transformation, undergoing significant personal, emotional, and behavioural changes.

Although every addict’s experience with recovery will be personal, there are five typical stages through which addicts pass on their way to lifetime recovery. If you think you are suffering from addiction, when you read these stages below have a think about which stage you might be at.

These range from pre-recovery to the development of new ideas, behaviours, and lifestyle that maintain an addiction-free life.

The Five Stages of Recovery

Each stage has specific tasks which must be worked through completely before people can move on to successfully complete the tasks of the next stage.

Stage 1: Awareness and Early Acknowledgement

This is really a pre-recovery stage that paves the way for recovery, and begins with a growing awareness that there is a problem with addiction. During this stage people are still engaging in addictive behaviours and, in fact, are often pushed into the stage by the concerns of family or friends, or health, financial, work, or legal problems.

The end of this stage is marked by an acknowledgement that action is needed to address issues. The tasks involve a shifting of perspective from outright denial to a willingness to consider the possibility of addiction.

Stage 2: Consideration and Incubation

This stage is still before the actual recovery, but is the first concrete step towards recovery, characterized by a willingness to further explore ideas about addiction and recovery. The primary movement during this stage involves increasing knowledge about the realities of addiction and the impact it’s having on the addict’s own life and on the lives of others.

Stage 3: Exploring Recovery and Early Activity

This is the first clear stage of recovery. Beyond denial now, this stage unfolds with a clear resolution to quit the addiction. Tasks involve exploring ideas and activities of abstinence, moderation, treatment, and recovery; during this stage, people actively move towards stopping the addiction, and beginning treatment of some kind.

Stage 4: Early Recovery and Rehabituation

Recovery involves a change in perspective, attitude, values, and lifestyle. Stage 4 marks the entry into full, but early, recovery. Although still fragile, this is the stage which most solidifies recovery and during which a new life is built. During this stage, people learn the skills, develop the behaviours, adopt the habits, and build the relationships needed to maintain a lifetime of freedom from addiction.

Stage 5: Active Recovery and Maintenance

This is recovery proper. For many this is a stage without an end, for whom recovery is a lifetime process. It certainly is difficult to mark an end to the stage as it really “unfolds” into the life people will live for many years to come. By the time people enter Stage 5, they are actively monitoring themselves, their feelings, thoughts, behaviours, activities, and relationships. Here, people are living out all they have learned as they ensure that each day is a day free of addiction.

The Journey to Recovery

Restoring and rebuilding life after addiction takes place only over time. How much time will depend on the commitment to recovery, and the personality, approach, and resilience of the recovering addict. And few people can go this route alone, without the support of family, friends, and the community of help that’s easily available.

For everyone though, recovery is possible.