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Once the problem of addiction is recognized, individuals can begin the process of recovery by following a treatment plan. Recovery is the process of overcoming both physical and psychological dependence on a psychoactive drug, with a commitment to sobriety.

What is the difference between treatment and recovery?

Treatment and recovery are interconnected, but not the same. As the NIDA Principles of Drug Addiction indicate, treatment is an important component to the recovery process.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), "treatment" is defined as in- or outpatient services that focus on initiating and maintaining an individual’s recovery from alcohol or drug abuse and on preventing relapse. Treatment can include detoxification, group or individual counseling, rehabilitation and the use of methadone or other prescription medications. It also can involve drug or alcohol education and self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Quite often, treatment is considered the "light at the end of the tunnel" for those afflicted with substance abuse addiction. Unlike addiction itself, treatment is a positive process, involving a variety of support systems that systematically help lead individuals to successful, fulfilling lives without drugs and/or alcohol.

Individuals who have participated and completed treatment programs are considered to be "in recovery." Thus, recovery is recognized as "…an ongoing process of improvement--biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually--while attempting to maintain abstinence from alcohol and other drugs." (Strawn, Julie, WIN, "Substance Abuse Welfare Reform Policy," Issue Notes, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1/7/97. p.3) Furthermore, individuals can be forced into treatment, but cannot be forced into recovery. Recovery from alcohol and other drug abuse is a voluntary process, and a strategy to reach recovery should include treatment. Therefore, treatment is not a long-term solution to alcohol and other drug addiction, but a commitment to recovery is. In addition, some people become "clean and sober" solely through continuous participation in 12-step programs, instead of through treatment. They, too, consider themselves "in recovery."

What are the steps of recovery?

There are six stages that addicts must undergo for long-term recovery:

Transition – The period of time needed for the addict to realize that safe use of alcohol or other drugs for them is not possible.

Stabilization – The period of time in which the addict experiences physical withdrawal and other medical problems and learns how to separate from the people, places and things that promote drug abuse.

Early recovery – When an individual faces the need to establish a chemical-free lifestyle and builds relationships that support long-term recovery.

Middle recovery – The time for developing a balanced lifestyle where repairing past damage is critical.

Late recovery – The period of time in which the individual identifies and changes mistaken beliefs about oneself, others, and the world that causes or promotes irrational thinking.

Maintenance – The lifelong process of continued growth, development and management of routine life problems.

Do addicts ever fully recover?

Addicts should realize that their life can never be the way it was before their addiction. This does not mean that a recovering addict cannot live a healthy and fulfilling life. Rather, addicts should be aware that recovery is a process that always will need to be maintained.

Is abstinence/sobriety the same as recovery?

No. Sobriety or abstinence is simply refraining from the ingestion of alcohol or other drugs. Recovery is the process by which the ingestion of alcohol or other drugs is recognized as problematic and avoided.