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The Stages of Addiction Recovery

When it comes to change, humans aren’t very patient.

We want a “quick fix” for all of life’s problems from weight loss to financial matters.

When it comes to the treatment of addiction, it can be tempting to hope that a quick detox in rehab will do the trick and solve the problem permanently.

However, for most sufferers of addiction this isn’t the case.

While every addict’s journey to recovery is individual, most often the process of recovery can be thought of as occurring in several stages.

The Transtheoretical Model (also known as the “Stages of Change” model) was developed in the 1970s by social science researchers Prochaska and DiClemente.

It evolved through studies that explored the experiences of smokers that quit on their own, as well as those who required further treatment.

They wanted to work out why some individuals were capable of quitting without assistance and from these studies they determined that these people were more likely to quit smoking if they were ready to do so.

The Stages of Change model operates on the assumption that people do not change behaviours quickly and decisively, rather changes in habitual behaviours (such as addictive behaviours) occur in cycles.

For the purposes of defining the addiction and recovery process, the Hader Clinic Queensland breaks this model into four stages.

Again, because addiction and recovery is so individual, it provides a rough guideline and time frame of what to expect in recovery. 

For example, a diverse range of factors such as age, gender, substance(s) abused, length of time using, method of use, general health, family history and trauma suffered pre addiction/during addiction must be taken into account.

In addition, all forms of addiction have a baseline of similarities including but not limited to:

  • Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour
  • Denial
  • Low self esteem and a big ego
  • Anxiety, depression, insecurity
  • Feeling like a victim
  • Wanting the quick fix

Recovery begins with a contemplation phase.

The addict begins to realise that his/her behaviour is problematic and they begin to think about stopping their substance use. 

They still may be ambivalent about seeking treatment at this stage, however, there is a growing discomfort around the effects of using. 

Secondly there is a crisis/decision stage where the pain of using becomes too much for the addict and treatment is sought. This stage also can include a family intervention that sees their loved ones sent to rehab.

The third stage of recovery which coincides with early treatment involves shock and grief as the buffer that existed between the addict and the real world is stripped away.

Many clients have described this process as being “stripped bare”. 

The process of early recovery elicits a whirlwind of emotions from elation (as you’re getting your life back) to grief (you’re mourning the loss of a substance which has been the most significant relationship you’ve had for a long time). 

This part of recovery is the beginning of retraining your brain to think differently by doing things differently. 

We recommend a 90 day treatment program and studies back this up.

For example, a study published by the European Journal of Psychology demonstrated that it takes people 18 to 254 days to change a habit.

The wide range in timing relates well to addiction and demonstrates that it takes consistent effort to change the way you do things. This is why it’s important to be willing to change – if you are, then you’re half way there.

The fourth stage is about repair and long term personal growth.

Because substance addiction changes brain biology, namely reward pathways, abstinence and recovery reverse such changes over time, allowing the recovering addict to feel joy, empathy and hope again without needing to be under the influence of a drug.

This stage involves learning to navigate away from the negativity addictive thoughts bring and learning new ways to live.

Although the task of recovery might seem overwhelmingly massive, the facts are that all you need to get started is a dash of willingnessness and a dose of open mindedness.

Recovery is a process, not an event – you get out what you put in.

The question shouldn’t be “how long does it take?” but rather, “how rich do you want your life to be?”

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