When someone begins their journey of recovery they often ask “How long will I be in recovery?” Oftentimes, people wonder about this question even before they decide to get sober. Depending on who you ask, or what program you employ for sobriety, you may get a different answer. Let’s look at some of those potential answers and the reasoning behind each.
Recovery is not the same as addiction treatment, nor is it the same as being sober. Instead, recovery is a process defined when someone has stopped using addictive substances and has moved on to begin living a productive live, including improvement in self-care, repairing relationships, and adopting healthy stress management techniques.
In the early stages, it’s often asked, “How long will I be in recovery?”
Addiction as a Disease
Before a person reaches recovery, they must address their addiction and seek treatment. Substance abuse treatment teaches that addiction is a disease—just like asthma or diabetes. This belief system is employed by most in the substance abuse treatment field and it is called the disease model of treatment.
In this model of treatment, addiction, like many chronic diseases, has no cure for addiction. Rather, it is treatable, and treatment assists people in getting sober and learning recovery skills to help the addict live a life free from their drug of choice. With the proper treatment and support, one can manage addiction through recovery. Of course, this no cure model of treatment means that there is no cure. This can lead some to lose hope or not see the benefit in a lifetime of sobriety. It can also cause people to become depending (yes, addicted to a degree) on things like 12-step meetings, daily routines, etc. While these things are certainly good at helping people stop using alcohol and drugs, they are not meant to replace the addiction.
The Concept of Recovery for Life
Recovery is a time when a person manages their addiction and lives as a productive member of society. In the disease concept/model, recovery is much like remission. The person is doing okay, but they must manage their disease daily. Because of this constant monitoring, people use the slogan, “Recovery for Life,” to signify that recovery is a life-long process, and not something that is accomplished in a 30-day treatment stay.
The medical community has recognized that certain medications can play an important role in both addiction treatment and recovery, especially for those with opioid use disorder. Doctors combine these medications with behavioral therapy or counseling, as well as community support, to optimize the treatment process.
In addition, the medical community has deemed this life-long recovery concept necessary to the future success of those suffering from substance abuse. Without long-term care, the disease model states that chronic relapses will plague those with addiction. While this is true for some, this model doesn’t work for everyone. I believe that recovery has a more positive outlook. We don’t get sober in order to live a mundane, boring life having always to be attached to some daily routine or meeting that if were to miss one or two would surely mean we would relapse. This is one of the hard drawbacks of the disease model. The beauty of the disease model is that it has allowed addiction to be recognized by the American Medical Association which has in turn brought funds into the treatment industry. It has also normalized addiction reducing the stigma that used to be attached to addicts. However, telling addicts that they will always be addicts has a downside. This includes a sense of hopelessness and fear that can lead to relapse.
When people wonder how long does recovery last, it’s important to note that every person has a different journey through recovery. Some people may find out right away that recovery suits them. Others may struggle for years, learning the best way to avoid temptation and high-risk situations.
The disease model states that an addict will always be an addict and can never have permanent sobriety. This model would argue that an addict will always be in recovery and must live with a healthy fear of their drug of choice. What they would say is akin to what the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that the addict has “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of their spiritual condition.” This I agree with. However, it can also lead to a sort of legalism that would require someone to consider taking NyQuil for a cold as a relapse as they have ingested alcohol in their body. And that the person will always be in recovery from this disease. To me, this puts too much emphasis on the disease or addiction. The problem with the addict, as stated in Alcoholics Anonymous, is with the addict. The drug is just a symptom. Their way of escaping from dealing with the issues of life or “living life on life’s terms.” So, if you deal with, and treat, the underlying issues, then logically, the person can gain permanent sobriety from drugs and alcohol. In fact, the Big Book of AA states that “we HAVE RECOVERED from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” And the purpose fo the book, and program, is to show others “how they have recovered.” This is the message of AA and should be the message to all who enter treatment. You can recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body!
How to Build a Strong Recovery
Medical treatment for substance abuse would say something like, “Since recovery is living the best post-treatment life possible, it makes sense that the longer one is in recovery, the stronger that recovery becomes and the less likely they are to relapse.” What we want you to understand is that you can recover from your drug and alcohol addiction and that life can be as beautiful as you want it to be. Don’t get caught in the trap that says you have to always be in recovery. Go to treatment, enter a sober living community and learn how you can live a life recovered from drugs and alcohol. We will be with you on this journey. Call us today at San Diego Sober Living to learn how we can help you on this journey towards permanent sobriety.