The First Stage Of Alcohol And Drug Recovery
If you have decided that your drug and/or alcohol use has become unmanageable, a distraction from things you may have once enjoyed or needed to do, affecting relationships with friends and family, affecting your career or work or having an impact on your health then you need to get help for your drinking or drug abuse problem. You have already entered the first stage of recovery by admitting that you have a problem, admitting your life has become unmanageable and needing to seek help.
This process — reaching out for help and seeking some kind of treatment or rehabilitation — is known as treatment initiation. It is the first of four stages of recovery or rehab as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and we will continue with the next 3 steps in a set of 4 articles, this being the first.
If you are like most people who seek help for substance abuse or addiction problems, in the very early stages you probably still harbour some feelings of ambivalence about giving up your drug or alcohol of choice, and you may still be in denial about the full extent of your problem. This is common yet is often not recognised or understood.
This is common for people in the early days. If you enter a professional residential rehab program, reduction plan with your GP or initiate a treatment program consisting of substitution medication such as Methadone with a Drug and Alcohol Service, the first goal will be to conduct a full and extensive assessment to determine what substance(s) and/or amount and type of alcohol you consume, how often, how to use it and what impacts this is currently having on your life to ensure that whatever treatment options are put in place, that they are going to be of a positive benefit to your situation, implement harm-reduction techniques and ensure that any detox program is fit for purpose and tailored to your needs and remove as much of the discomfort and withdrawal symptoms as much as possible however some are to be expected.
Next will be to implement Psychological support as well as other supplementary issues that addicts can have including but not limited to housing, criminal issues, finances, childcare, mental health, physical health issues, access to food banks and so on. Assessments will also look to determine if you have any denial issues or ambivalent feelings towards your substance(s) of choice. The following are some things to consider:
Denial simply means refusing to believe the reality of your circumstances. Many people new to recovery usually have some level of denial about their substance abuse or addiction. Denial can take many forms, from thinking that you can still control your substance use to denying that you are really addicted at all.
The following erroneous beliefs are typical forms of denial:
Forms Of Denial
- Believing that you are different from those “real” alcoholics and addicts
- Thinking that you can solve your problem by “cutting down” rather than eliminating it completely. You may think that you can get your substance abuse back “under control”
- Refusing to believe that a secondary drug is also a problem. For example, an alcoholic thinking that continuing to smoke pot is okay or a cocaine addict refusing to think their drinking is a problem
- Believing that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA) will not be helpful, because you are “not like those people,” because their problems are so severe and “that isn’t me”
- Insisting on continuing to spend time with “friends” who enable you by agreeing that drugs are not a problem for you, by using them with you or buying them for you or allowing you to owe them (getting it on credit or “tick”)
Confront & Challenge
Any of the above forms of denial can interfere with your recovery. The goal of any of the professional treatment programs is to break through that denial and help you see the truth about your situation. Your Doctor or Keyworker may challenge and confront you in an effort to motivate you to change your mind. After all, you can only change something that you know AND believe is not working for you anymore.
Your Keyworker may remind you of all of the negative consequences that your substance abuse or addiction has had in your life or challenge you to abstain from drinking or using drugs temporarily if you believe you are not really addicted. Either way, the goal is to get you to see the truth and instead make subsequent positive changes to correct and improve your life overall.
Addicts in active substance use and even some in recovery attempt to rationalise the irrational behaviours they undertake in order to acquire and use drugs or alcohol. You can find more information about how addicts try and rationalise the irrational here in our previous article.
More About Ambivalence
If you are in the early stages of seeking help for a substance abuse problem, you probably have some ambivalent feelings about giving up your drug of choice permanently. If you are like most substance abusers or addicts, you just can’t image life without ever drinking or using ever again!
Chances are you decided to seek help in the first place because you’ve experienced one or more forms of negative consequences to your drug or alcohol use. You’ve realised you need help, but quitting completely for the rest of your life was not what you had in mind!
The following are reasons that many newcomers to recovery have feelings of ambivalence:
Reasons for Ambivalence
- You associate your drinking or drug use with a positive emotional change, to relax or “to function”
- You may turn to your drug or alcohol of choice as a coping strategy and you do not yet know a better coping mechanism
- You may feel too weak or helpless to break the cycle of using/drinking, later on feeling shame or guilt and repeating the process
- You may have entered rehab or treatment because of pressure from others such as a spouse, boss or judge and you are just trying to keep them happy
Keep The Reasons You Want To Stop Drinking Or Using In The First place
When it comes time to stop using or drinking, it is important to remember the reasons you want to stop drinking or using. These reason are personal to you but here at some common reasons why people want and need to stop.
- I want to live! If I continue to drink or use, I know that my life will end up in one of three ways: prising, mental health hospitals or death
- For my family, children and friends
- My physical health and my mental health is suffering and I want to be healthy
- To stop feeling guilt and shame
- To stop needing to apologise for my behaviour when I’m drunk or high
- I want to spend my money on positive things for me, my children and partner and not drugs or alcohol
- I want to achieve things like a “bucket list”
- I don’t want to be dependent on substances that hold me back and stop me doing things
- Fed up with waking up feeling ill and have to feed cravings
- I want to sleep better and have energy to do the things I want to do
- I want to enjoy things other than drink or drugs, have hobbies and interests again
- I want to improve my appearance as it has impacted my appearance greatly
- I don’t want to go to prison or commit crimes to feed my habits
- I want a career, a job to enjoy and be proud to do
- I want to study and gain qualifications to achieve my goals in life
- I want friends and a social life that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol
- I want to gain self worth again and give back to my community
- I have found a religion and wish to dedicate my life to god as we know him/her/them and not drugs or alcohol
These are some of the most common reasons why people want to change their lives around for.Try keeping these reasons in mind when times get tough or cravings kick in and use them as motivation to continue and succeed!
TIP: Write them down on paper and stick your reasons for motivation and change in a place that is highly visible so that you can remind yourself of them when you feel you are struggling!
If you decided to seek help because you experienced one or more negative consequence, that may have been enough motivation to get you to admit you have a problem. But it may not be enough motivation for you to solve the problem.
If you have always turned to your drug or alcohol of choice in times of stress, when you want to relax or when you are upset or angry, chances are you have ambivalent feelings about giving it up, unless you learn new coping skills which can be gained through the various treatment options including NA, CA or AA. Contact information for these organisations and many more can be found on our help & support page here.
You can also visit our previous article on gaining and maintaining motivation in recovery here.
Encouragement & Support
Your Keyworker, in this early stage of treatment, will try to identify your ambivalent feelings and their underlying reasons. You will probably be asked to list your goals in life and shown how much easier it will be to meet those goals if you are living clean and sober.
Again, in the early stage of recovery and throughout your treatment process, the goal is to get you motivated to make positive changes in your life and maintain them. Your treatment program is there to encourage and support your efforts to make those changes.
Hitting “Rock Bottom” & Where To Get Help
Many people talk about hitting “rock bottom” and for many people this comes at different times, for some loosing their job or their partner or children finding out is enough to motivate change and yet for others, being homeless on the streets with no food or being sentenced to prison is enough however this will be different for everyone. The person or people who have the addiction or abuse their substance(s) can contact your GP or Drug and Alcohol Service.
To find your nearest check out our help and support page. They will then be able to help you reduce and stop Safely to try and reduce any uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and help you implement other support such as counselling, access to substitution programs, help with housing and finance, access to physical and mental health services among others.
REMEMBER: Your treatment is there to help you improve all areas of your life so try not to think of it as “loosing out” or “giving something up” and think about it like your going to gain something new. New friends, hobbies, a job, a partner, a home and ultimately a life that’s happy and content that’s worth living!