It may sound cliché, but admitting you have a problem really is the first step toward Recovery. Most people who suffer with a substance use disorder spend months or years covering up their behavior. Many outright deny they have an issue to those around them and even to themselves.
In the early stages of Substance Misuse a person may genuinely believe they can control their drug or alcohol use. Until something happens. They lose their job. Their marriage falls apart. They face a stint in jail. Some reach a point where they have gotten so out of control they no longer recognize the face staring back at them in the mirror.
No matter how long you’ve been using drugs or alcohol or how severe your issue, acknowledging that life has become limited or unmanageable because of drug or alcohol use is the first step toward Recovery. There are additional actions anyone committed to ending the cycle of Substance Misuse should take. Let’s explore.
1: Commit to Recovery
Think about all the reasons Recovery is important to you—more than likely there are quite a few. You want to rebuild your relationships with your parents or your spouse, or spend more time with your children. Perhaps you want to go back to school for your master’s degree. More than likely you simply want control over your life again and you’re tired of having to use substances to feel happy, relaxed, or normal. Whatever your reasons, a commitment to Recovery is essential. Those who are coerced into going into rehabilitation may be less likely to achieve long-term sobriety, and the ethics of coerced treatment are debatable.
2: Don’t let fear paralyze you into inaction
Chances are you’ve tried to quit using at least once before, and probably a number of times. If a magic potion existed to get sober effortlessly, millions of people would line up for it tomorrow. Don’t let self-doubt and fear of failure prevent you from moving forward. You may falter, and that’s ok. Share a failed attempt to get sober at an AA meeting or with a trusted friend or family member. More than likely you’ll be commended for your honesty—use that support as a foundation to push forward in your recovery.
3: Recognize that Substance Use Disorder is a chronic disease
The scientific and medical communities have come a long way. For far too long Substance Misuse was considered a moral failing: an unhelpful view at best, and a destructive one at worst. Today we understand that Substance Use Disorders are complex diseases and that substance misuse changes brain function.
Here’s how it works: Most drugs flood the brain’s reward circuit with dopamine, a powerful chemical messenger that produces feelings of pleasure. Overstimulation of this reward circuit leads people to use the drug(s) again and again. Over time, the brain adjusts to the excessive release of dopamine and starts to produce less of the chemical or reduces the capacity of the brain cells in the reward circuit to respond to the drug; this dampens the high the person experiences, and is known as tolerance. Over time, users must take more and more of the drug to achieve the same high.
So, why doesn’t everyone who uses drugs or alcohol develop a Substance Use Disorder? Genes and environment are two important factors, as is a person’s age when they start using. The analogy “genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger” helps explain how genes and a person’s specific environment work together in the development of addiction. Suppose a person has a genetic predisposition for addiction and also suffers from trauma in early life, such as physical or sexual abuse. These factors and others, such as peer pressure and/or exposure to illicit drugs or alcohol, may place this individual at a higher risk for developing a substance misuse problem later in life. Age is also a factor—the earlier a person starts using the more likely they are to develop a problem.
Ultimately, no one factor predicts whether a person will develop a substance use disorder, and every person’s experience is unique. Recognizing that addiction is a chronic disease can help lift the veil of blame and shame that still exists (but, thankfully, is in decline) as our understanding of addiction continues to evolve.
4: Seek out a detox and addiction treatment program
You must get clean to get sober. A detoxification program managed by a team of professionals and overseen by experienced medical staff is an essential part of the recovery process. This is especially important for those who have a serious drinking problem, as withdrawal from alcohol can be dangerous and needs to be closely monitored by medical professionals. A reputable rehabilitation facility will provide a continuum of care that includes detoxification, monitored medical care, and intensive individual and family therapy sessions in a safe, welcoming environment.
5: Set goals
If you’re just starting out in the recovery process it’s important to set clear, realistic, and specific goals for yourself. Having something to aspire to and achieving goals just feels good. Goals can be short-term, such as journaling every day, or long-term, e.g. staying in a recovery program for a full six months. Write down your goal statements, and make sure they’re specific, action-oriented, and measurable. This will help ensure that goals you set are within your capacity to fulfill.
6: Find a support network
Finding the right support network is vital throughout the process of recovery. In addition to an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, ongoing support from friends, family members, fellow addicts, and support groups ensures you always have a place to turn no matter what is happening in your life. Many people find Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous and the 12-step program helpful. Others prefer science-based, non-AA support groups, such as the SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) program; SMART is a self-empowering program that focuses on dealing with temptation, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in healthy ways, and living a balanced lifestyle. Whatever your preference, establishing a support group is one of the most important things you’ll do in recovery.
7: Embrace the idea of self-care
It’s virtually impossible to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually when you’re in the throes of a Substance Use Disorder. If you’re in the early stages of recovery or still contemplating a treatment program, your primary focus is probably on just getting through each day. As time goes on it’s almost a given that your head will clear and you’ll feel better physically. And when you feel better you’re more apt to eat right, exercise, create a manageable routine, establish healthy relationships, and engage in healthy activities that make you feel good.
One thing is certain: You are absolutely worth it—your health, happiness, and well-being matter. All the best to you on your journey of recovery.
This article by was written by Sheila Shilati, Psy.D., "COO" of Seasons in Malibu, a CARF-accredited, dual diagnosis addiction treatment center specializing in treating addiction, trauma and mental health.
Dr. Shilati has been in the field for over 12 years. As the COO of Seasons in Malibu, she has introduced cutting edge intervention models with compassionate care and the highest credentialed staff. Seasons in Malibu boasts over a 95% satisfaction rating for clients that enter into their treatment center. As a long-time executive, Dr. Shilati is mindful of the ever-changing landscape of recovery and ways in which clients best respond to treatment.