When Does Recovery Start?

Some people say that recovery from substance abuse/addiction starts the day a person enters treatment. Treatment can be a peer group (AA/NA), a therapist’s office, a mandated DWI/DUI group or a rehabilitation center; however I propose that recovery starts long before these behaviors. Recovery starts when a person wakes up groggy from over drinking the night before, holds his head in his hands and says: “this doesn’t seem to work anymore” or maybe when a suburban young mother is more concerned about covering her track marks on her arm or between her toes than finding her next fix. And often it starts when someone or something you love is gone and you notice the loss.

Alcohol and other drug abuse/addiction often begins as a solution to a problem, such as “I am shy,” “I am hurt,” “I am bored,” “I want to fit in,” or “My moods are running my life.” We therapists/counselors often term this as “self-medicating,” and it usually is; however, it is prudent to view this as a “self-thought-of solution” to dissatisfaction. It is a person’s desire to do something different.

It is always important for the patient/client to see that the therapist understands that the person sitting across from them was looking for solutions to their problem(s). The client/patient tried something different; therefore they can try something different.

When a person whose life has been disrupted by substance abuse/addiction makes it to their first session, they usually feel like and view themselves as a failure. They usually don’t really know why; however when a person tries to change something in their life and the method of change compounds the problem(s) there is often a presentation of generalized failure at living.

At that moment it is important to “undo the knots” of  the perception of generalized failure by examining with them the details of those things in their life that are worth continuing, the things that work. Looking for exceptions to their new problem is finding the inherent strengths that we all have.

Change cannot occur when a person believes that all that they are is an addict.

Pre-treatment change happens much more often than therapists notice or acknowledge. The change usually does not include sobriety but it always includes growing self-awareness. Once a person who is dealing with substance abuse/addiction sees it as a problem born out of a search for a solution the tip of the denial iceberg has chipped off and the positive, solution-focus-finding work has begun.

True recovery is a realistic possibility when finding workable, client-centered solutions to the core problems. When a person changes the view of themselves from a problem-addict to a solution-finder anything is possible.