How Quickly Will Treatment Change the Life of an Addict or Alcoholic?

How Quickly Will Treatment Change the Life of an Addict or Alcoholic?


You are probably wondering how quickly treatment will change the life of the addict or alcoholic that you know that is struggling so badly.

If you send them to rehab, what will happen when they leave? Will it be an instant transformation? Can you count on success with this sort of thing? How quickly will they return to a “normal” and happy life?

Quick success really is possible

It is possible that a struggling addict or alcoholic can achieve a very quick turnaround in their life. Many who do this will in fact go to a treatment center, leave the rehab, and then start living a brand new life in recovery.

They may use support groups such as the 12 step meetings, or they may find a path of religious recovery. Whatever the case may be, it IS possible for someone struggling with addiction to turn their life around very quickly.

That said, there are a number of potential problems that can sometimes prevent people from achieving this sort of “fast success” in the recovery process.

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Most people who get clean and sober do so only after multiple attempts. That fact alone should give you at least some idea about how difficult it is to change your life, and how rare long term success may be for some people.

Recovery IS possible, and many will achieve it. But you have to be realistic about the process of recovery, and some of the pitfalls that may prevent people from achieving overnight success when it comes to getting clean and sober.

Possible problem: thinking of treatment as an event, rather than as a process

This is a very common problem and anyone who is not familiar with addition and recovery is very vulnerable to this line of thinking.

The fact is that, from the outside, we tend to look in and see treatment as an event.

Someone has a problem, they go to rehab, problem solved….right?

That is how the treatment process looks from the outside.

But those who have experience in the process of recovery know a bit different.

They know that treatment is, in fact, a process…..not an event.

If treatment were really an “event,” then addiction would not be a problem, and a cure would exist and be an easy fix.

But we all know that no such cure exists, and that there are no easy fixes.

That said, any struggling addict or alcoholic certainly has the potential to change their life on a permanent basis. But they do this through a process of recovery, through an evolution of change, they have to change their entire life, and there are bound to be some growing pains involved.

For example, I attended treatment three times before I finally “got it.” I have not met too many people along my journey who were able to simply stop their addiction on a dime with a single visit to treatment. It does happen I am sure but it is rather rare, and this is because recovery is a process, not an event.

So I am not saying that it is impossible for someone to attend their first treatment and then stay clean and sober forever. I am sure that it does happen. What I am cautioning you about instead is the fact that most people’s journey into recovery is not nearly that tidy and smooth. It tends to have lots of bumps and growing pains along the way, but this does not mean that they are not going to eventually “get there” and achieve lifelong sobriety.

In a sense, you have to realistic about their recovery process. Realize that it can take time, it may not happen overnight, and it might require more than one “attempt” for them to finally achieve meaningful recovery.

Possible problem in early recovery: pink cloud syndrome

What is “pink cloud syndrome?” This is where the newcomer in recovery starts to feel good again, their body is detoxed from all of the drugs and alcohol, and suddenly they are on top of the world. Everything is right again in their life, and recovery is grand! Nothing can burst their bubble, and optimism is running high.

Of course, reality always checks in at some point, and everyone has their good days and their bad days. So eventually every recovering addict or alcoholic who is riding on that “pink cloud” is bound to have a bad day.

So the problem is not the bad day of course, as we all are going to experience ups and downs in our life. The problem is how we react to that bad day, how we deal with it, and if we have taken action in order to prepare for it.

In other words:

Do you have a strong support system in place?

Have you learned techniques in order to cope with triggers and urges?

Do you have a new outlet for stress that can help you get through the rough patches in your recovery, such as exercise, prayer, meditation, etc.?

Many people who are in very early recovery have not yet learned these coping skills, and they have no way to deal with a bad day other than to self medicate. If they are really serious about their recovery then it is more likely that they are building the social support in recovery that will be able to help them through the rough times.

Another possible setback: Lack of follow-through on aftercare recommendations

If there is one common thread among people who leave rehab and then quickly relapse, it is this:

They did not follow through on their aftercare recommendations.

The counselors and the therapists at treatment may have recommended that they attend outpatient treatment, or counseling, or to attend 12 step meetings every day. Every rehab is likely to come up with at least some form of a plan for each person who leaves.

What they have found is that people who relapse almost never followed through with these aftercare plans.

And when they look at the data on people who DID stay clean and sober, they almost always had followed through with their aftercare recommendations.

So this is a huge pitfall that traps a lot of people. The reason it can trap people so easily is because these newcomers in recovery still have the wrong mindset. They are still thinking of treatment as an event rather than as a process.

So it is their belief that treatment should simply “fix” them, they are thinking of recovery as a cure, rather than as an ongoing maintenance against the threat of relapse.

The bottom line

None of these pitfalls necessarily have to trap the addict or the alcoholic in your life who is struggling. Anyone can ask for help, go to treatment, and end up staying clean and sober forever. The fact is that we just need to be realistic about the recovery process, and make sure that we are not thinking of rehab as a “cure” and placing unrealistic expectations on it.

The struggling addict or alcoholic in your life may or may not be ready for treatment. Even if they agree to attend rehab, keep in mind that there are several pitfalls that could prevent them from achieving overnight success. It is fine to have hope for them, but be realistic too about how the process of surrender really works. Recovery is not always a one-off event that produces permanent sobriety forever.

If you think they might be ready to change, then take action today to get help for them.


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