How is Success in Recovery Defined?


by Dr. Raul Robriguez Successful recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol can be defined in a number of different ways. Most people think of accumulated “clean time” when grading sobriety, but there is much more to it. Physical health, mental health, emotional health, spirituality, relationships, and happiness are all essential elements of global recovery success. Having a global perspective about recovery is critical. If you do not look at the big picture, you will miss something important. Ignoring any major facet of life will usually create problems that could have been prevented. To be perfect in every facet is not realistic, but to achieve some measure of improvement is. Betterment in one dimension will spill over and make progress in other dimensions easier. The desired effect, of course, is a decreased rate of relapse. The relative rate of relapse is a much more meaningful statistic than simple “clean time”. Simply counting the days of chemical abstinence may give misleading information about a person’s overall progress. To suddenly stop relapsing once and for all, without even a single unintentional setback, may be an unrealistic expectation for most. Some become unreasonably discouraged by a relapse that they really were not prepared to prevent. They see it as yet another failure and experience hopelessness. That is precisely the time when they must persevere. Most long-term success cases work through short relapses early in the recovery process. These relapses are typically shorter, minimally enjoyable, less frequent and not premeditated. The context of the relapse also matters. Someone who has done a substantial amount of therapy work may still be vulnerable to relapse from deeper underlying issues that are coming to the surface. This is entirely different from the individual who relapses over and over from basic triggers such as poor choices in friends or environment. A person who has a “slip” but has otherwise demonstrated global progress is in a more favorable position than someone who is fully abstinent but has not changed any other aspect of how they live. The degree of change in how someone lives their life will often determine their degree of recovery success. Positive changes result in decreased stress levels over time. Avoidable conflicts are avoided and unavoidable conflicts are managed more effectively and with less distress. Stress is a natural trigger for relapse so the less, the better. Improved self-care preserves gains in physical and mental health, which in turn protects against relapse. These positive effects of healthy living become increasingly more prominent over time. In a manner comparable to how addiction creates negative neuro-adaptive changes in the brain, recovery stimulates positive changes. The effects of these beneficial changes include less depression, less anxiety, and less addictive cravings. This allows for sustainable happiness that is stable and consistent over time. This is the true “bottom line” that really indicates success. When a person is chemically abstinent, but otherwise not living a globally healthy lifestyle, these positive changes develop less. This is typically seen in the “dry drunk”, who is abstinent but otherwise unhappy, unpleasant, and emotionally stunted. Everyone is capable of a successful recovery but a global approach is necessary. Abstinence is enough to start the recovery process, but more is needed. A person needs to grow emotionally, psychologically and spiritually by making positive changes in the many facets of life. Sustainable happiness is the ultimate goal of successful recovery, not just “clean time”. Dr Rodriguez is the founder and Medical Director of the Delray Center For Healing. The Delray Center For Healing is a comprehensive outpatient treatment center that incorporates the most advanced psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological modalities in the treatment of complex Addiction and Dual Diagnosis cases.

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