roadblockThere is no point in being less than honest.  Recovery is hard work.  It requires discipline and change – things that most of us resist, not just addicts and alcoholics.  To overcome addiction it is important to recognize that there is a battle taking place with a powerful, chronic disease.  It can be beaten, but let down your guard, and it will come storming back to destroy your life in countless ways.

When someone you know enters treatment and starts the journey to sobriety, it’s important to be supportive.  It is also necessary to be on guard for the times when their addiction tries to pull them back into using.  Addiction is good at lying, manipulating and tugging at your heartstrings.  So be alert, and ready to help the addict/alcoholic stand firm against the “voice” of their addiction.  Here are some of the ways in which the “stinking thinking” of addiction can lead to relapse.

This is too hard.

The early days of detox are not easy.  Even though medications are used to treat the pains, nausea, headaches and other symptoms, there can be some tough days.  The body is craving the lost drug, and it plays with the mind to get it back.  At St. Joseph Institute we have heard a thousand stories: “I’m just too homesick,” or “your programs not right for me” (even though they have not started their program), or “I shouldn’t be here because I’m not really an addict.”  Resist the instinct to rescue.  It is the drugs that are talking. After the first 3-5 days, life gets much better.

I’ve got it.

After the first week in treatment, when the symptoms of detox have started to fade away, the person in treatment starts to feel better than they have in years.  Thinking is clearer, and life starts to hold more promise.  At this stage of recovery it is easy to start believing that you can easily beat your addiction and it’s time to head home and get back into life.  Unfortunately, recovery from addiction is not that easy or that fast.  There is work to be done and skills to be learned.  The brain has to begin rewiring the way that it works, and the addicted person needs to start living life differently.  I’m sorry to say that almost everyone I know that left treatment at these early stages was using again in a very short time.  Treating addiction does not come with many short cuts.

I don’t need to make changes.

There is a saying in AA that has been around forever: “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Staying in recovery requires that you let go of those things that kept pulling you toward your addiction:  people that you used with, places where you drank, the things that keep reminding you of drugs and alcohol.  If change doesn’t happen, recovery usually doesn’t happen either.  The addicted person needs to examine every area of their life and honestly take stock of what keeps triggering their addiction and needs to be changed.  Sometimes it is a lot of little things, while for other people major change may be necessary, such as leaving a job or moving to a new home.

Who needs help?

Often the hardest part of recovery is accepting that you cannot do it all by yourself.  Left on their own, the brain of an addict or alcoholic will often find ways to justify or rationalize a return to using.  By accepting support from others, the times of weakness and temptation can be overcome.  Over and over I hear the same story.  “When I stopped going to meetings, when I began to isolate, when I didn’t call my sponsor – that is when the relapse began.”  Recovery is a team sport, everyone needs help to stay on track and ensure that pride doesn’t become the obstacle to long-term sobriety.

No shortcuts.

Research confirms that the longer a person stays in active treatment, the better their chances of leaving addiction in the dust.  It is not surprising that doctors, pilots, lawyers and other professions that are required to stay in treatment for 90 days or more have a success rate over 90%.  Doing the hard work early can save years of torment — moving in and out of recovery, leaving a trail of broken relationships, lost jobs, guilt and sadness.  Recovery does not come without a fight, but the people who have achieved lasting sobriety will explain that it feels better than winning the lottery.

Michael Campbell, MS, APR is Co-Founder & President of St. Joseph Institute