“I personally believe this: we have only today; yesterday’s gone and tomorrow is uncertain. That’s why they call it the present. And sobriety really is a gift… For those who are willing to receive it.”
~ Ace Frehley, member of KISS, and author of No Regrets: a Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir
Many people who enter an addiction recovery center do so because they are at their own personal “rock bottom” – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They have finally reached the point where the consequences of their substance-abuse have made their life unmanageable.
Not everyone has to hit rock bottom before getting clean, but most people do.
And making that admission of unmanageability is the first, most important step on the road to recovery from addiction. Now – finally – the suffering addict/alcoholic is ready to ask for help.
However, while taking this step is an important one, that doesn’t mean that the road to recovery is all downhill afterward. And unfortunately, many people may enter into recovery having a completely different and downright wrong idea of what to expect along the way.
Below are a few truths about sobriety that person needs to know. Some of the truths are joyful news and some are brutally honest. Knowing what to expect can help a person experiencing new-found sobriety adequately meet the challenges ahead.
1. Recovery from Addiction Isn’t Easy
This is probably the one truth that everybody knows but hopes won’t apply to them. On an intellectual level, the average person entering a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program already knows that quitting drinking/using is going to be tough because they have probably tried to stop before.
But if they’re like most people, they know that getting clean is fraught with uncomfortable and even deadly symptoms that affect both the body and the mind. These are called withdrawals – and they can be brutal.
The withdrawal process can be grueling for many drugs, depending on the level of addiction. And some of the worst symptoms are the physical ones.
Below are some of the most common physical withdrawals for the most widely abused drugs today.
Opioids (heroin, OxyContin, Vicodin, etc.)
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Increased tearing
- Abdominal cramping
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, etc.)
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Skin rashes
- Skin rashes
Stimulants (meth, cocaine, speed, etc.)
- Muscle aches
- Increased sleeping and appetite
- General discomfort
- Slowing of activity
- Powerful cravings
The physical withdrawals can be hard to get through without help. But what many people don’t realize is that mental withdrawals can be just as hard to bear.
Below are just some of the mental withdrawals that recovering addicts can expect to experience on their way to sobriety.
- Social phobia
- Perceptual distortions
- Intrusive memories
- Sleep disturbances
On top of the withdrawals associated with getting clean, there are plenty of other factors that make getting and staying sober especially difficult. That’s because addiction is an incredibly destructive disease. And nearly every aspect of an individual’s life is affected along the way.
So even though an addict may have kicked his physical dependency to a drug, they still have to rebuild the life that was destroyed in the process. And that struggle – the rebuilding – is often one of the hardest to get through.
For instance, in addition to the uncomfortable withdrawals pointed out above, many addicts will also suffer from:
- Alienation from old friends and family members
- Poor self-esteem, shame, and guilt
- Financial and legal difficulties
- Lack of life infrastructure (i.e., a place to live, a job, friends or family)
- Health problems caused by addiction
And when you add all of these problems together, it can make it hard to see through to the other end of the recovery tunnel. That’s why it’s so important to develop a comprehensive recovery plan and to seek out the guidance and support of professional treatment along the way.
2. Recovery Can Be DEADLY Without the Right Help
With the right kind of support and guidance, the journey to recovery can be incredibly freeing and satisfying. Not having to remain a slave to a substance abuse problem opens up the door to countless opportunities, better physical and mental health, and a brighter outlook on a life that may have otherwise stayed dark and hopeless forever.
But recovery is serious business. It takes work, dedication, and most importantly, expertise. Because without the right kind of help, trying to get clean can actually be life-threatening in some cases.
Deadly withdrawals, accidental overdose, and dangerous complications can all cause serious problems without the right kind of help backing you up.
Most addictive substances don’t actually have deadly withdrawals. But two in particular that do are alcohol and benzodiazepines. And without the right kind of help, someone trying to get clean from these drugs can suffer from seizures that can be terrifying, destructive, and even fatal.
That’s because both of these drugs have a unique way of slowing down certain processes in the brain. However, over time the body gets used to the effect and actually makes the chemicals that speed up the brain more powerful.
Once the alcohol and benzos are removed from routine use, though, those speed up chemicals are just as powerful. And without the slow down from the drugs, the brain is launched into a flurry of electrical activity which results in life-threatening seizures.
With alcoholism, these seizures usually come with a host of other symptoms like confusion and hallucinations. This is what’s known as “delirium tremens.”
And without expert help to manage the symptoms, withdrawing from both of these drugs can be deadly.
While opioids don’t necessarily have the life-threatening withdrawals of alcohol and benzos, it does have one danger that regularly takes countless lives every single year. And that’s the risk of accidental overdose.
To explain, opioids tend to build up tolerance especially quickly in habitual abusers. And in that same way, tolerance to these drugs also drops faster than most people might expect.
The trouble, then, comes from when someone is trying to kick their opioid addiction but ends up relapsing. For these individuals, they may go back to using the exact same dosage of the drug that got them high before. But in the few weeks that they’ve been sober, their tolerance has dropped dramatically.
And consequently, their body won’t likely be able to handle this old dosage, leading to a dangerous and possibly fatal overdose.
Accidental overdose is so common with opioids that experts agree that the first 90 days of recovery are often considered to be the most critical.
Education is key to preventing this danger. And having a comprehensive relapse prevention plan and a social support group can help reduce the risk of a life-threatening relapse.
While alcohol, benzodiazepines, and (to a certain extent) opioids can all have life-threatening withdrawals, most drugs actually don’t. Even heavy hitters like cocaine, methamphetamine, crack, and PCP don’t usually come with withdrawals that are directly fatal.
However, the story doesn’t stop there. Because in fact, it isn’t just the withdrawals associated with getting clean that can kill you. Instead, the complications that can occur alongside these withdrawals are often far more dangerous.
Below are just some of the most common complications that tend to occur during withdrawal – and the life-threatening conditions that they can cause.
- Malnutrition (seizures, shock, coma
- Dehydration (hypothermia, respiratory tract infections, convulsions)
- Heart palpitations (heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure)
- Uncontrollable vomiting (aspiration, pneumonia, choking, acute respiratory failure)
- Mental disturbances (harm to others or self, suicide)
A professional program helps both prevent these complications from occurring and treats them should they appear. It’s just one more reason why it’s so important to partner with a professional treatment program rather than trying to go through detox all alone.
3. Recovery from Addiction Isn’t Quick
This is a hard truth for many recovering alcoholics and addicts – they will be an addict/alcoholic for the rest of their life. Recovery is a lifelong practice since there is no cure for the disease of addiction. A person who is on a successful journey of sobriety will need to make behavioral changes and the mental adjustments on a daily basis to safeguard their hard-won sobriety. They learn to manage their disease in order to escape from the worst consequences.
Even after successful completion of the best addiction recovery programs, a person will still have a new, fragile grasp on their sobriety. Months and months of work may be necessary before that person has a strong foundation.
What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?
One condition in particular that can make recovery infinitely more difficult is what’s known as post-acute withdrawal or PAWS for short. This condition is basically when some of the symptoms of withdrawal (usually the psychological ones) still affect a recovering addict for weeks, months, or even years after quitting.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), some of the most common symptoms of people experiencing PAWS include:
- Sleep difficulties
- Problems with short-term memory
- Persistent fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Alcohol or drug cravings
- Impaired executive control
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Dysphoria or depression
- Unexplained physical complaints
- Reduced interest in sex
And as you can probably imagine, continuing to experience these symptoms long after quitting can make it incredibly hard to hold on to sobriety
Now, a lot more research still needs to be done on PAWS to determine why it affects some people and not others. But experts agree that partnering with a professional program is one of the best ways for patients to remain sober. And in fact, SAMHSA even lists out a few ways that a professional program can help patients get through PAWS in one piece. These include:
- Educating clients about PAWS and helping them develop realistic attitudes towards recovery
- Celebrating each accomplishment
- Assessing for co-occurring disorders
- Asking about sleep problems
- Advising clients to be active
- Advising clients to be patient
- Prescribing medications as needed to control symptoms past the acute withdrawal stage
- Encouraging clients to join mutual support groups
- Including interventions that help clients strengthen executive control functions
- Monitoring clients for symptoms during continuing care
Aftercare: A Necessary Component for Recovery
Just because you graduated from a professional program doesn’t mean your battle with addiction is over. And in order to fight off cravings and keep sobriety forever in your sights, it’s going to take finding an aftercare program that works for you.
These programs help with the transition back into normal day-to-day life after a treatment program. And they’re a key part of any successful recovery plan.
- Outpatient Programs – An outpatient program provides one of the best aftercare options. These programs are designed specifically to offer flexible education and treatments so that patients can work on rebuilding their personal lives at the same time.
Treatment sessions usually take place in the evenings or on the weekend. And these kinds of recovery options also tend to last for around 3 months – giving you the extended support you need to transition to a life of sobriety.
- Individual Counseling – After graduating from a professional program, it may be a good idea to look into individual counseling. Even if you choose not to attend an outpatient program, simply having a professional to talk to and bounce ideas off of is a great way to keep sobriety at top of mind.
Finding a counselor that actually specializes in addiction and recovery is usually the best way to go here as they’ll better understand the ins and outs of sobriety. And that means they’ll be able to give you the advice and guidance you need to stay clean.
- Support Groups – Staying clean takes an enormous amount of support – that much is clear. But where do you turn to when you just don’t have that kind of social support network? Simple: local support groups.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are vital sources of support that hold meetings in almost every major city in the country. They’re free to attend, open to all, and are one of the best places to find individuals who want nothing more than to see you achieve sobriety.
Even online support groups can be immensely helpful in keeping a newly sober person clean. These groups can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an internet connection. And while in-person groups are usually considered the superior option, online groups offer a level of support for those who may simply not have had access to it otherwise.
4. Recovery from Addiction Isn’t Magic
Many people enter alcohol or drug addiction facility with the idea that the professional staff is going to “fix” them. That thought is far from the truth. That once they enter a program, all they have to do is make it until graduation and they’ll be cured of their substance use disorder. In reality, the best addiction rehab specialists only give their clients the tools and information they need to affect their own personal changes.
Recovery from addiction does not mean simply signing up, and going to meetings and *PRESTO!* – everything will be okay. It means putting in a lot of work, having patience, and eventually, or enjoying the fruits of one’s labors. In this case, the “fruit” is the serenity and happiness of a life free from the chains of addiction.
How Common Is Relapse?
Since there’s no magic pill, no cure, no foolproof operation for addiction, relapse is always going to be possible. It’s never welcome, sure. But it’s waiting just around the corner for many addicts.
In fact, the rate of relapse is around 40 to 60% – and that’s for people who do get specialized treatment. This number might come as a bit of a shock. That means that about half of everyone that gets help is likely to turn back to using at some point. And pardon the pun, but that can be a sobering statistic for many.
But the truth of the matter is that addiction is a chronic disease. NIDA even points out that relapse rates for other chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension are similar.
And like other chronic disorders, it’ll take professional help and persistent work to kick a substance use disorder for good. The trick is to build a solid relapse prevention plan and stick with it.
5. Recovery from Addiction Doesn’t Fix the Rest of Your Life
Actions have consequences, especially actions performed when drunk or high. When a person abuses drugs or alcohol, all they are doing is postponing dealing with their problems, and in many cases, they’re making those problems worse. When that person gets sober, the problems are still there.
Some of the typical problems faced by a newly-sober person are:
- legal issues – DUIs, for example
- relationship woes – infidelity, separation, divorce, etc.
- difficulties at work – demotion or termination
- financial problems
- other mental conditions that contributed to/resulted from addiction – depression, anxiety, etc.
All of these are serious life issues that need to be addressed. Quitting drugs and/or alcohol will improve the chances that these can be resolved successfully, but it will take effort above and beyond mere sobriety.
A strong social support network is one of the most effective tools that a recovering addict has to fight off relapse. This network can provide emotional support, motivation to keep going, and even tips and strategies that an individual may not have thought of beforehand.
But not everyone has a strong social support network that they need to keep clean. And that can make achieving sobriety a lot harder than it needs to be.
Thankfully, some professional programs recognize this need and incorporate relationship rebuilding into the addiction treatment program. They may, for instance, offer group or family therapy so that patients can begin to mend their relationships and, therefore, have a better shot at staying sober.
However, not all treatment facilities will have family therapy. So it’s important to find a program that does so that you can incorporate your social support network – which is vital for sobriety – into the recovery process.
Recognizing & Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Getting clean from an addiction is an incredibly important step towards living a happier and healthier life. But unfortunately, many addicts also suffer from other mental disorders at the same time. And when these disorders are left untreated, it can make relapse far more likely to occur.
According to NIDA, mental disorders like depression, anxiety, OCD, or bipolar disorder are about two and a half times more likely to occur in people with substance use disorders compared to the rest of the population. On top of that, people with mental disorders are also about two and a half times more likely to develop an addiction.
Suffering from both is what’s known as having co-occurring disorders.
And what makes this condition so problematic is the fact that both the addiction and the underlying mental problem have to be treated at the same time. Because when one is treated while the other remains, the symptoms can make it much harder to avoid relapsing.
Not all professional programs will have co-occurring disorder expertise. And using one that doesn’t can make recovery far harder than it has to be.
6. Not Everyone in Your Circle Will Understand Your Recovery from Addiction
Every person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol has people in their life who either enable or actively contribute to their addiction. This can be a spouse who “cleans up” all of their addict’s messes and protects them from real consequences, or it can be a so-called “friend” who normally is their drinking/drugging partner.
If that spouse doesn’t get help for their own enabling/co-dependency issues, they won’t “get” the changes in their newly-sober husband/wife. They may not understand the lifestyle changes that have to be made.
That friend who was always quick to share in the drinking and driving may not fully understand why the person in recovery can’t have “just one” drink. They won’t respect the need for total abstinence. In some cases – in many cases – it may be necessary to separate from that friend who is still actively drinking/using.
That’s okay. If someone can’t support the recovery from addiction that is saving your life, then losing them is not really a loss.
Recognizing Enabling/Codependent Behaviors
As a recovering addict, you have a responsibility to yourself to stay sober. And that means that you may have to weed out some of the toxic relationships in your life that are built on substance abuse and enabling.
But recognizing the signs of being in this kind of relationship can be hard to do. Have a look at some of the resources below to help you determine if someone in your life is making your recovery difficult through their enabling/codependency.
7. Recovery from Addiction Is a Sign of Strength
The first step is admitting one’s powerlessness over alcohol and drugs – that life has become unmanageable due to addiction. Then a person is ready to ask for help and actually be receptive to that help.
Far too many people think that asking for help is a sign of weakness because they could not overcome their addiction on their own. On the contrary, addiction is a disease, and no one overcomes the disease without help.
It is a real, tangible sign of strength and self-knowledge to know when a problem – in this case, addiction – is beyond one’s personal capabilities. Finding the right physician, counselor, or professional addiction recovery program demonstrates the strength of character.
Admitting There’s A Problem
This is often the hardest step for many. Addiction is complex. And it changes the way the brain thinks, feels, and even sees on a fundamental level. It isn’t any wonder, then, that denial is incredibly common among people with substance use disorders.
In fact, an astounding 95.5% of addicts didn’t receive the professional treatment they needed in 2016 simply because they were in denial about their addiction. That’s 16.9 million Americans that didn’t get help because they were lied to by their own brain.
It’s important, then, to learn how to recognize the signs of denial so you can stop it before it makes getting clean even harder.
How Do You Know If You’re Addicted?
Recognizing an addiction for what it is can be tough, as you can see. But once you recognize your inherent denial and start looking for the signs, you can finally get the help you need to get clean.
Below are just a few ways to help you determine if you’re struggling with a substance addiction.
- A Short Online Addiction Quiz – It only takes a few minutes to take and can get you on the right path to sobriety quicker than most any other method.
- The DSM-V Guidelines for a Substance Use Disorder – These guidelines (under “How are substance use disorders categorized?”) are used by professional physicians and psychiatrists around the world to diagnose addictions in patients.
- NIDA’s Self-Assessment Tools – This long list of assessment tools from the National Institute on Drug Abuse has tests that can be finished in a few minutes as well as a variety of longer questionnaires as well.
- A Free Call with An Addiction Professional – A free, quick, no-obligation call with professional is by far the absolute best way to see if you’re actually struggling with a substance use disorder.
8. Recovery from Addiction DOES Get Better
A journey to sobriety is long, and early on, it can be hard to see the road ahead. The key thing to focus on is the word recovery – getting back what was lost. This can mean different things – regaining a job, repairing a relationship, rebuilding a life, restoring one’s physical and mental health – and it will take time.
When the ongoing recovery is successful, a person can regain or replace everything that addiction took away. Eventually, a recovering alcoholic/addict can again have everything they lost or gave up – except the drinking/drugging.
Just have a look below at some of the personal stories of individuals who overcame their substance use disorders and finally achieved sobriety.
Trauma and Recovery: A Story of Healing
9. The Best High Is Recovery from Addiction
One of the first things that addiction steals from a person is their ability to experience joy. That’s not an exaggeration – the addicted brain often doesn’t have the natural ability to produce hormones that promote pleasure.
Dopamine, the main brain chemical used in creating pleasure in the brain, is responsible here. As someone becomes more and more addicted to a substance, their drug abuse becomes the only way that dopamine is released. And in fact, the “high” that addicts keep chasing is caused by the massive release of this chemical in the brain.
However, the body eventually becomes so used to the drug causing the release that it actually stops doing it on its own. And that means that everything that used to bring joy – good food, music, exercise, sex – just don’t cause the pleasure that they used to.
Over time and after proper addiction treatment, a person can heal enough to where they slowly return to normal. When that happens, that person will begin to experience life in a whole new way – from a sober perspective. Everything will look bright and fresh and miraculous.
And those feelings of joy and wonder and appreciation are better than anything produced artificially by drugs or alcohol.
In the end, the journey of recovery won’t be simple – there will be twists and turns and bumps and potholes and obstacles along the way. Despite all that, it will all be worth it.
The biggest thing that is recovered is YOU.
The Biggest Truth of All: Recovery IS Possible
For the overwhelming majority of struggling addicts, the road to recovery will be an unexpected one. No matter how painstakingly you plan ahead or how resolutely you determine to follow a prescribed path, there will be surprises along the way.
People you may have adored before may abandon you. Friends you never knew you had may step up to support you along the way. And the struggle for sobriety may be harder or easier than you imagined – depending on what kind of help you receive.
But no matter how harsh the truths of recovery may hit you or delight you along the way, the truth of the matter is that recovery is worth it. And with the right guidance, support, and planning, you can achieve it.
What kinds of truths about recovery have you found along the way? What have you learned about getting sober that you wish you would have known about before you began? Pass on your knowledge and let us know in the comments below.