What does addiction recovery look like

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

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Addiction is one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions that exists. From drug addiction, alcohol abuse and substance use disorders, all these can inflict a plethora of mental health issues for the addict. 

However, most addicts suffer some form of mental health issue before the addiction takes hold.

What does addiction mean?

There are plenty of definitions of addiction – perhaps the easiest to digest is that addiction is not having control over doing, taking or using something harmful to you. According to Action on Addiction, 1 in 3 people suffer some form of addiction.

Substance addiction

Commonly, addiction issues are associated with:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Drug abuse
  • Nicotine
  • Prescription drug addictions

Process Addiction

However, addictive behaviours (known as process addiction) can also be:

  • Shopping
  • Gaming
  • Work
  • Gambling
  • Solvents

What are the five stages of recovery?

Addiction recovery is a unique experience for each individual, hoping to abstain from substance abuse.

Recovery from drug abuse gets glamorized or thought about in the wrong way. Addiction recovery comes with many bumps in the road.

Therefore, the treatment and recovery process is one that takes commitment and adequate mental health support from the addict’s loved ones’ and, of course, those who specialize in addiction and recovery.

Five stages of recovery

The five stages of addiction recovery involve:

#1. Acknowledging the addiction

When someone acknowledges that they have a problem with addiction, it is the first step to them accepting treatment.

In this stage, the person may still drink or take drugs, but they are aware that they have an addiction problem.

The learning experience that comes with acknowledgement and awareness of addiction allows the individual to move out of the denial phase, which makes room for drug treatment or other substance abuse treatment in the future.

#2. Addiction awareness

In this stage, the individual abusing drugs or alcohol begins to come to terms with the damage they have done to themselves, and their friends and family.

All this is when the blinkers come off, and while they may still be using substances, the individual realizes the damage that their addiction problem has caused.

#3. Exploring recovery

Someone entering the exploratory phase may not have reached out for addiction treatment as such. 

However, the individual might be abstaining from drug or alcohol abuse themselves by either cutting down or cutting out drinking or drug-taking entirely.

Those who attempt to abstain from substance abuse without proper treatment and recovery will realize that recovery is something they can’t do alone.

All this is usually the time when the addict begins to seek treatment options such as support group meetings, or entering a 10 day executive treatment program.

#4. The beginning of addiction recovery

This stage is when reality hits home, and the addict is learning what life is like without substances.

All this can prove to be quite a challenging time as someone who is in this phase of addiction recovery is in the process of mending the damaged relationships with loved ones’ brought on by drug use or alcohol abuse.

It is common for addicts to have a relapse during this phase of addiction recovery; all this is proof that mistakes can (and do) occur in the treatment and recovery phase.

The key is for the addict to accept and forgive their mistakes, continue to practice their coping skills, cultivate a healthy diet, and focus on living a life that is free of substance abuse.

#5. Recovery and aftercare

Once someone has stopped taking drugs or drinking, the individual needs to be aware that the habits do not stop because they are no longer ‘’using’’.

No matter what the addiction might be, the process of recovery is lifelong, and the methods that one adopts in an addiction treatment programme can allow them the self-control to kick the substance abuse habit.

At this stage, the individual will have learned coping mechanisms, identified what triggers their addiction, and will have built a stable support network to turn to when challenges arise.

All this allows the individual to sustain a drug-free (and alcohol-free) lifestyle.

How long does it take to recover from a relapse?

Addicts need to remember that with recovery, there will be many hiccups.

Part of addiction recovery, whether it be from drug use, or other substances like alcohol, is to understand and forgive any slip-ups that are likely to occur at some point during the recovery process.

What does relapse mean?

A relapse is, by definition, when a person returns to using drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety.

An addict who has relapsed might feel embarrassed and feel as though they have let themselves and their loved ones down.

Two types of relapse

There are two types of relapse – one being more ”traditional” this is when an individual knowingly takes drugs or alcohol. They might use an excuse such as ‘they had a bad day at work’, or they needed to ‘calm their nerves’.

The second type of relapse is called ”freelance”. All this is when an individual has ingested drugs or alcohol unintentionally – for instance, if their drink was spiked, or accidentally given alcohol.

It is common to relapse and recover again

Most people in addiction treatment will experience feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment when they relapse.

However, it is possible to relapse and enter back into recovery – relapses frequently occur during treatment recovery.

A relapse doesn’t mean the end of the road. It merely means that recovery from drugs or alcohol isn’t as smooth sailing as we’d like it to be.

What is the recovery process?

As mentioned earlier on, getting help is the first step to recovery from addiction.

When someone seeks professional help, they are more likely to get the treatment they need to recover from a substance use disorder.

Drug addiction treatment centres, rehabilitation centres and twelve step programs are effective in treating a wide range of addictions.

Addiction recovery process

According to The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, recovery from mental health and substance use disorders is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.

Recovery is a process of growth, healing and transformation.

Abstaining from drug use or any other substance requires learning, and in some cases, unlearning any behaviours that were not serving you before.

In treatment and recovery, the individual is encouraged to learn and practice the necessary skills to live a life that is whole and healthy.


Growth and healing are synonymous with recovery – it offers a platform for healing, a profound sense of self-understanding, and allows individuals the tools to surf the waves of recovery.

Often, growth involves:

  • Understanding triggers and coping mechanisms that get adopted over a long period that led to addiction
  • Learning that alcohol and drug use was what masked whatever pain or trauma you have experienced in the past
  • Bringing loved ones and family members into the recovery process as part of your recovery allies and support group
  • Learn to live a life that is whole and healthy, a substance-free life


Healing from a substance use disorder is not a one size fits all solution.

Each individual has different needs and requirements, and treatment options should mirror those needs.

SAMHSA published 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery, which explains the principles of addiction recovery further – namely that healing occurs through many pathways.

Recovery pathways include:

  • Professional clinical treatment
  • Strategic use of medications
  • Support from family, friends and faith-based support groups and resources
  • Mutual aid groups

Twelve-step programs

Twelve-step programs are an invaluable part of the addiction recovery process.

These programs afford those in recovery the opportunity to build allies and a stable support network for recovery. 

Those in recovery can share their experiences, and through these shared experiences offer support and validation to one another.

In twelve-step recovery programs, those in recovery find meaning, acceptance, connection and mutual understanding through interaction with their peers. 

Recovering addicts also find a foundational support group they can relate to and turn to when times get tough.


Recovering from addiction is a lifelong process – full of ups and downs, and twists and turns. However, the transformations that occur for addicts in recovery are worth all the struggles and pitfalls along the way.

Power of Choices

We all have the power to make choices, these choices either heal or hurt us, but they are ours to make.

Active addiction is when a person decides that they want to drink or abuse drugs – and, if the individual has the power to make choices that can harm them, they can also make choices that don’t hurt them or their health in any way.

Self-control, recovery, a willingness to change, and to live a substance-free life comes down to many things, and one of those things is the power to make the right choices.

Through treatment and recovery, individuals learn that they are the person in control of their lives, that it is possible to live a life that is free of drug use and addiction.

Getting professional help and staying on the path of recovery allows individuals the self-control and validation to recover from their addiction problem and witness a transformation within that they never thought was possible.

Looking to the future

Going through setbacks can make you stronger – it might make you recognize weaknesses and triggers that you missed the first time round.

Instead of looking at setbacks as ”the end” look at them as part of the recovery process. Recovery is a way of life – it is part of who you are, it is something to be worked on every day, and you are worth it.

Get in touch with the team at Tikvah Lake Recovery today to find out how we can help you build the life you’ve always wanted – a life that is free from addiction.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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