Alcohol and Drug Addiction — Three Phases of Addiction Recovery


One way to view being in drug and alcohol addiction recovery is to think of a time line with three phases marked out on it, early recovery, middle recovery, and late recovery.

Every stage of addiction recovery as certain lessons to be learned, growth opportunities, and tasks that must be completed within that stage before moving to the next stage. A defining characteristic of addiction is that a person loses control over their use of alcohol and drugs. This causes negative consequences in their lives, psychologically, physically, spiritually, he and in relationships. Addiction recovery in a large part, is about systematically gaining back control of those areas of one's life, while admitting a lack of control over the drugs and alcohol.

Here are the three phases of alcohol and drug addiction recovery:

1. Early Recovery:

The primary lesson to be learned in early recovery is deceivingly simple and that is abstinence from all mood altering drugs, including alcohol. It is only through removing the substance from the body, in giving the brain a chance to heal, does one have a chance of regaining normalcy in their life. In early recovery, one must gain a knowledge of addiction, begin to form a social support network, and work on a relapse prevention plan. All these activities are directed toward the goal of gaining the skills necessary to maintain evidence over drugs and alcohol. Although each person is different, and there is no hard time line the early stage of recovery can last up to two years.

2. Middle Recovery:

I n the middle stage of recovery one lasts to hone the skills necessary to maintain abstinence. The focus tends to be on vigilance and avoid slipping into complacency. Here one needs to learn lessons that may have been lost, forgotten, or never learned previously. It is important to examine and start to identify and repair damages caused by addiction and move toward attaining a balanced lifestyle. If an issue needs to be addressed, we admit it and take some action to make it right. Here is the time to start healing relationships with self, family, Higher Power or God, and the community at large. A good indicator that the necessary lessons have been learned and goals have been met in middle recovery is when one feels 'balanced' within and starts to be at peace the world about them. For the time frame oriented, the middle phase of recovery may run from six months to five years after initiating abstinence.

3. Late Stage Recovery:

Once one has achieved stability and security in recovery, it may be time to deal with 'undering issues'. These may be issues that are deeply ingrained, possibly reaching back into childhood. The idea is that if one works on and processes issues that have caused unease, dis-ease, and turbulence in one's life, it undermines the need to seek relief from these problems through drugs and alcohol. Some issues that are commonly addressed in a later phase of recovery may be abuse issues, low self-esteem, abandonment, or recognition of a dysfunctional family system. It is suggested that these "core issues" be reopened only when one is very stable in recovery, and preferably with professional support.

Progression through phases of recovery depends more on accomplishing and learning the specific lessons, rather than an accumulation of time abstinent from drugs and alcohol. The final phase of recovery is a growth and continuation phase that really never ends. It is highly recommended that wherever one is in recovery, education should continue.

Bill Urell