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Substance Use Recovery: How Do You Get There?

Substance Use RecoverySeptember is National Recovery Month, a time to spread awareness of substance use recovery, prevention, and treatment. But what exactly is recovery? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” This journey is a process for life, centered by hope, and the belief that changes in one’s life can occur. The process of recovery is a very personal experience that often follows a number of stages.

Stage one is referred to as precontemplation. During stage one, individuals tend to feel as though their use of substances is relatively normal, such as with social drinking or other recreational drug use. While they may recognize the potential danger of their substance use, they justify, or minimize, the consequences. The perceived benefit is greater than the consequences of continued substance use. A person in this stage is ambivalent about the need for change.

Stage two, contemplation, is characterized by an awareness that substance use may be negatively affecting the individual’s life and contributing to issues at work, school, or home. The individual begins to contemplate that they may have a problem. While they have become aware of the negative effects of their substance use, they aren’t quite sure if the consequences outweigh the enjoyment of their use and often delay recovery efforts.

When an individual begins to recognize that the consequences of substance use are greater than the pleasure, he/she moves from the contemplation stage to the preparation, or determination, stage. Ambivalence wains and the individual starts to accept that his/her substance use is problematic and begins to make life-changing plans. The individual begins to accept that treatment is needed and is more open to exploring recovery. The primary challenge during the preparation stage is making a strong commitment to recovery.

When commitment to change is made, the individual enters the action stage. It is here where concrete steps are put into place to follow through with the commitment to abstain from substances. The action stage goes beyond getting sober, it is active participation in treatment/rehabilitation. Significant life-style changes are made to include distancing oneself from people, places and things that trigger thoughts and urges to use substances, adopting a healthier diet, working to repair damaged relationships and building a sober support system.

The maintenance stage is typically reached when a person has abstained from substance use for a period of six months. Individuals must “maintain” sobriety while in the maintenance stage. The focus of this stage is prevention of relapse into earlier stages or substance use. This is an important stage in the journey toward recovery. Many individuals relapse during the maintenance stage. Continued success in this stage is reliant on the recognition of the progress that has be achieved, renewed/continued commitment, and strong, supportive relationships that reinforce continued progress toward recovery.

It is important for the person in the recovery journey to understand and recognize that the change process is a process for life, and in life, there are setbacks. Resilience is a key component of recovery. Being resilient helps us to bounce back, recommit to change, and re-engage. It is a learning process that requires patience and perseverance. It is also important for individuals seeking help with substance use to work with treatment providers and support groups that support them through all of the stages of change.

Brook Lane’s InSTEP (Substance Use Treatment Program) meets clients wherever they are in their journey and works to help them discover that recovery is ongoing and a life-long process. Therapy sessions are specifically designed to help build upon the strengths of the individual to help them work through guilt and shame, empowering them to take control of their own recovery. The first step in the recovery process begins with making an appointment for an evaluation. If you would like to begin your journey to hope, healing and recovery, give our Intake/Admissions office a call at 301-733-0330 or 800-342-2992.

Amanda Barnhart, LCSW-C, is an adult mental health therapist providing counseling services at Brook Lane’s North Village outpatient facility. She is a member of the InSTEP (Substance Use Treatment Program) team, where she provides person-centered treatment to help clients manage and overcome their dependence on substances.