When people get help for addiction, they are committing to two things: a short-term rehab process that can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months; and to long-term recovery, which begins when they complete rehab and re-enter life. Most people focus on the first part of addiction recovery, since it is the foundation for sobriety, but rehab is only the beginning of the recovery process, as most of recovery occurs outside of a treatment facility. Once people leave rehab, they must practice the lessons from treatment and figure out how to manage problems without turning to drugs for escape.
Although many people overlook this latter stage of recovery, life after rehab is just as important as rehab itself. Recovery requires a lifelong commitment, because it is not a temporary phase, but rather a process that requires continual work.
How Addiction Affects the Brain
Addiction physically alters the way the brain works. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, many drugs resemble the brain’s messenger system, so they send abnormal messages to the brain and other parts of the body. These messengers can also overstimulate the pleasure center of the brain, which can lead to tolerance and dependence. When this occurs, the brain needs an increased amount of the substance to feel normal. Over time, the brain physically changes to accommodate drugs, so users develop addictions that make them seek drugs at all costs.
Because substances can change the brain, it is often difficult for people to stop using drugs. This is especially true for addicts, so it is essential for users not to go through detox and rehab, but also to avoid the substance in the future. Even one use of drugs can make the brain return to its old patterns, which can cause users to relapse back into addiction. However, while relapse can be a setback in recovery, it is not a failure. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate and adjust one’s commitment to recovery.
Committing to Change in Recovery
As outlined by Stanton Peele, the following changes make recovery strong:
- Users must believe they can change for the better
- Develop life skills will help users succeed in their career and relationships
- Identify personal values and beliefs to pursue change with that belief system
- Realize that improvement is valuable, even if it is slow and unsteady
- Find inspiration to maintain sobriety long-term
- Develop habits that encourage recovery and a healthy lifestyle
Addiction is a powerful and complex disease that takes a lifetime to recover from. Life after rehab is not the end of the recovery process, but rather the beginning of its long-term stage. People that want to stay sober long-term must commit to improving their lives. They will also have to spend the rest of their lives managing addiction to make life productive and meaningful.
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