What We Mean When We Talk About Recovery

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Man works while in recovery

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Of all the words you’ll hear in the addiction field, few have been more mysterious than “recovered,” “recovery” and “being in recovery.”  What constitutes a full recovery? Is full recovery considered a cure? How long is one supposed to be “in recovery” before he or she is considered cured? Let’s go over what we mean when we talk about addiction recovery.

We’ve all met someone who seems so put together and so successful that you could possibly imagine them when they were abusing substances. These people are not cured of their addiction, they’re still in recovery. Just ask them and they’ll tell you as much. In some cases, battling addiction is only half of the problem. Some people are battling co-occurring mental health disorders, post-injury trauma, medical issues, or clinical depression issues.

Before we take a look at some of these more specific details, let’s better understand what recovery even means.

What Does “Recovery” Mean?

To put it simply, “recovery” refers to someone who used to be addicted to drugs or alcohol and is making progress toward overcoming and fighting against this addiction.

The harsh reality is that “being in recovery” means a person is progressing on a journey toward achieving or maintaining sobriety. In essence, it’s more accurately defined as “being in remission.” This phrase is much more accurate because it suggests that relapse is a distinct possibility. That’s certainly true just as it is with someone who might be “in recovery” from cancer.

To others, recovery might mean being “on the path to a definite cure” — as in being in recovery after a surgical procedure. That’s a bit of a risky classification, but a little less so if you understand what is meant. When we talk about substance abuse and addiction however, the definition of recovery as utilized in the 12 step programs a is bit different. There, it is commonplace for people to refer to themselves as “in recovery,” no matter how long they have been free from relapse and no matter how successful in life they’ve become.

The Definition of Recovery in Addiction

While people may think that someone who is in recovery has conquered alcohol or drug addiction, when you look closer at the issue, you realize that is not the case. Essentially, recovery is not something that someone will complete.

Addiction is a lifelong disease.

Even if someone is able to go years or even decades being sober, a strong craving, personal event, or trauma can still cause the individual to go right back to their old habits and relapse.

People in Recovery Relapse

Whether or compare recovery to remission, it’s important to understand that there’s a very real danger of relapse. Even years or decades down the road one may use addictive substances. As such, part of the healing process of individuals in recovery is the self-admission that they are indeed at risk. They know if they do not control their triggers for relapse, they may use again. The same is true if they forget their teachings as to how to deal with these triggers.

When a person recovering from addiction tells you that they are “in recovery,” they’re acknowledging this danger both to themselves and to you. By the same token, if an individual relapses or drops out of a 12 step program, they are no longer “working the program”. When this happens, by most definitions, they are no longer in recovery.

In plain English, they’re not cured, and instead, they’re naked against the temptations and triggers. This is a dangerous condition and relapse is much more likely. People suffering from any form of addiction shouldn’t focus on the semantics of others who have difficulty comprehending the difference between “recovering” or “recovered.”

These onlookers should view addiction as a behavioral condition that requires vigilance to manage. Exposing a person in recovery to triggers intentionally brings with it inherent risks. In a weakened emotional state, there is a serious risk of succumbing to old habits. For this reason, addictive behavior is never “cured,” it can only be managed.

Preventing Relapse

Re-training the brain takes time –– often years –– so that the individual can learn new ways to manage stress. Addiction was previously seen as a solution to life’s problems, but with treatment, those suffering from addiction symptoms learn to find new ways to deal with these emotions. This requires constant vigilance and support which is why those in recovery continue to reinforce their learning through support groups. In fact, it’s not uncommon for addicts who have been sober for 20 years to still be attending group meetings or 12-step sessions.

Addiction is a terrible and chronic disease, but it is not who you are. And once you understand how it works, it doesn’t sneak up on you. There is no reason to dwell on what words you use.

Understanding the Stages of Recovery

Every addiction recovery journey begins with detox. One must be purged of the substances in order to even begin to suppress the urges. Detox is a program whereby patients are medically supervised as the substances are purged from their bodies. The process takes 3-7 days to get clean and is quickly followed up by a month or two of residential treatment.

From here, patients move on to either an intensive outpatient rehab program or an outpatient treatment program. Both of these programs have clinics during the day and allow clients to return home at night.

In an intensive outpatient program, patients are strictly supervised, have curfews, and mandatory daily counseling sessions. The goal of these programs is to address and resolve the underlying issues to a point where the client can move back into society. They will then be armed with the resources and skills to manage life’s daily challenges. Knowing which to choose requires a bit of an honest self-assessment along with recommendations by addiction specialists.

The longer one stays in treatment, the better their chances of addiction recovery. Studies suggest 6-9 months at a minimum is necessary to give patients the treatment needed and to re-train their brains. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight, nor does recovery. After a sustained period of sobriety, patients will re-enter society. This means they will start a new life of sobriety. Big changes typically happen during this period.

Those in recovery often relocate to another city or state, take up new activities, and hang around a whole different group of people. This is all part of the popular 12 step program, and no matter how the individual interprets it, the focus is on changing the people, places, and things that helped to fuel the addiction.

Signs of Recovery

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Commission (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” SAMHSA lists four signs that let individuals know they are in recovery, including:

  • Ability to address problems as they happen, without using, and without getting stressed out
  • Having at least one person to be completely honest with
  • Set personal boundaries and knowledge of which issues are theirs versus other people
  • Can take the time to restore energy — physical and emotional — when tired

Addiction Recovery

No matter your definition, it should be noted that addiction recovery is a process. It takes on many forms throughout one’s journey. Some say you’re never cured of addiction but you’re instead, always in recovery. This more than anything else truly means that vigilance is necessary to maintain sobriety and to deal with the stressors that can trigger a relapse. It’s why many still have their sponsor on speed-dial if they’re serious about their sobriety.

It’s a day-by-day struggle and those in recovery know this all too well.

Find Your Recovery at Renaissance Recovery

Renaissance Recovery provides the tools and levels of treatment for addiction recovery. The following specialized substance abuse treatment programs pave the way for a stronger recovery.

Contact us today by calling or filling out a contact form for addiction recovery in Orange County, CA.

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

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Paige R

“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

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Courtney S

“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country

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