What is the Recovery Process?

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The process of addiction recovery involves people making a significant change(s) to improve their quality of life, including overall health and wellness. It can also help teach people to feel empowered in their lives and reach their full potential.

If you or a loved one is starting the recovery journey, or are curious about what it means, this article will help you understand what the stages of change are, different types of recovery programs, and various treatment options you may encounter.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Process

Choosing to enter treatment or begin any kind of addiction recovery program can be scary, but also an important step in changing one’s life. The drug and alcohol addiction recovery process can look different for each person and is based on the level of care determined for a person, so treatment is often tailored to the individual.4

Regardless of the type of treatment or recovery a person chooses, they will likely experience changes as they journey through their recovery. One model that helps to define these “stages of change” is the transtheoretical model of behavior change, which was developed to help people navigate through the process of recovery.

While these stages are based in a theoretical model, they have become widely accepted as a means to help people recover and and make behavior changes that may lead to a successful recovery.5

What Are the 6 Stages of Change?

The “stages of change,” or the transtheoretical model of health behavior change, suggests that there are 6 distinct stages that a person goes through when making a change in their behaviors. Research done in the development of this theory suggests that recruitment, retention, and progress is improved when individuals are matched with the specific stage of change they are in when making health behavior changes.3 While not specific to addiction recovery, this method may be used to help support the recovery process. The 6 stages are:3

Stage 1: Precontemplation

The first step to addiction recovery is deciding that you need to make a change. Maybe you can see how your addiction is creating problems in your life. Or maybe your friends or family members have told you that they are worried about you.

Regardless of why you have decided to make a change, the important thing is you are making it. You are motivated to improve your life and your health by putting an end to a harmful alcohol, drug or behavioral addiction.

4 Lifestyle Changes That Can Help With Addiction Recovery

Breaking habits often requires changing the way you think, as well as changing behavioral patterns that have developed over the years.

Some changes you can make include:

Stage 2: Contemplation

When looking for a treatment facility, keep in mind that there is no treatment that is right for everybody.

Once you have decided to make a change, start exploring your rehab treatment and recovery options. This is the second step in the alcohol and drug recovery process.

Types of substance abuse treatment include:

  • Inpatient – This type of treatment involves living at the facility where you’re receiving treatment. Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab allows you to focus on your recovery without distractions and removes you from environments that may have been contributing to your drug use.
  • Outpatient – This type of treatment often includes regularly scheduled addiction counseling appointments a few times a week. Other types of outpatient treatment include intensive outpatient treatment and partial hospitalization. These treatments involve visiting a treatment center or a hospital for more formal addiction treatment or, when needed, access to medical resources or psychiatric care.
  • Dual diagnosis – These programs use an integrated treatment approach to help people who are struggling both with a substance use disorder and a mental and/or behavioral health issue.

When looking for a treatment facility, keep in mind that there is no treatment that is right for everybody. You will have the most success when you first educate yourself about available treatment types, and then find a treatment program that is tailored to your needs.

Other Considerations for Choosing a Treatment Program

Find a program that can treat other problems you have.

Your treatment program should also address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your substance use-including problems with your friends and family members, your professional life and your mental health.

Commit to it.

Once you find an addiction treatment program that seems right for you, commit to it! Being committed to the process dramatically increases your chances for success.

Twelve-Step Drug Recovery & Alcohol Recovery Programs

In exploring your treatment options, you are likely to come across the concept of 12-Step recovery. Many types of recovery program—including outpatient, inpatient and dual diagnosis—use the 12-Step model as an integral part of their treatment approach. In fact, about 73% of drug and alcohol rehabs in a 2016 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) used 12-step meetings and introduced patients to the philosophy of these programs.1

12-Step programs help people who are struggling with addiction. These groups and their steps provide social support to people when they need it. This support can help people stay off drugs or alcohol and make other positive changes in their lives, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some of the most popular groups that offer a 12-Step approach to drug abuse recovery include:

The video below discusses how to find a 12-step meeting in your community:

Stage 3: Preparation

Connect With Others in Recovery

Visit the Recovery.org forum to connect with thousands of other people in the recovery process. Share your story, get support and find resources for staying sober.

Go there

Finding support is the third step of the recovery process. Regardless of the treatment program that you select, you will need help with the stages of addiction recovery. You should talk to your friends and family members about your choice to enroll in a treatment program and ask them to support you.

You might be surprised how quick those around you are to support you-and you should embrace their help, when offered. You should be proud of your decision to change your life. Attempting to recover in hiding or isolation can make things tough; your friends and family can prove to be invaluable recovery resources.

Connect With Other Sober People

Sadly, in many cases, your friends or even your family members may have been contributing to your addiction-either indirectly (with enabling behavior) or directly (with overt drug use of their own). If you’ve encountered the latter situation, it will also important to build up a network of sober people.Your sober friends can help you find new social outlets, and they will also understand what you are going through. If necessary, you may even want to consider moving into a therapeutic community, sober house or make other sober living arrangements.

Stage 4: Action

Getting sober and completing a drug abuse rehabilitation program are among the first major steps in the drug and alcohol recovery process. But once you have completed a program, you will still need to work to maintain your sobriety and avoid a relapse.This is number four in the steps to alcohol recovery or drug recovery.

Control Triggers and Manage Cravings

A big part of maintaining your sobriety is managing cravings to use alcohol or drugs.

One of the most effective ways to manage your cravings involves making a concerted effort to avoid the people, environments and scenarios that act as triggers for you. Ideally, you should take the following steps to keep your cravings under control and reduce your triggers:

  • Distance yourself from your old drug or drinking buddies.
  • Avoid bars and clubs where drug and alcohol use is prominent.
  • Be honest about your drug abuse history when talking to doctors or other healthcare providers about your health.
  • Be cautious when accepting prescription drugs from your doctor.

Participate in an Aftercare Program

Aftercare programs can offer continued support post-rehab and help you stay committed to the addiction recovery steps.  These programs can include:

  • Regular individual or group counseling.
  • Support groups.
  • 12-Step programs.
  • Sober living homes.

Stage 5: Maintenance

“Do activities that you enjoy and that make you feel valid and important.”

The fifth step, rebuilding a new life, can take a lot of effort. But it is a critical part of the process.

Ideally, you should get involved in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel valid and important. After completing drug abuse rehabilitation, many people turn to volunteering in their community while others start a new hobby.

Setting life goals can be an invaluable part of this step, and looking after your health is also important. When people get enough sleep, eat right and exercise, they tend to feel better and experience less stress. All of these efforts can further build on Step 4 to help prevent a relapse.

Stage 6: Termination

The sixth and final step of the addiction recovery process is to forgive yourself if you have a relapse and not let it derail your previous efforts. Relapses can be frustrating, but they can also be a learning experience.

Relapses can be caused by various things. Many people relapse when they are in a negative emotional state, and others relapse because they are experiencing physical discomfort. Some relapse because of social pressure.

Regardless of why you have relapsed, it is important to forgive yourself and make a plan to get back on track.

Paying for Rehab Treatment

Additional Resources on Drug and Alcohol Treatment


[1]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). 2016 State Profile — United States and Other Jurisdictions National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS).

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2018). In Recovery—Steps to Overcoming Addiction.

[3]. Prochaska, J. O., Wright, J. A., & Velicer, W. F. (2008). Evaluating Theories of Health Behavior Change: A Hierarchy of Criteria Applied to the Transtheoretical Model. Applied Psychology, 57(4), 561–588.

[4]. ASAM Continuum. (2019). What are the ASAM Levels of Care?

[5]. Harvard Health Publishing (2008). Harvard Mental Health LetterMoving from one stage of addiction recovery to the next.

You are never too old to improve your health and quality of life!

You are never too old to improve your health and quality of life!

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