In order to bring you the most accurate information about how to recover from addiction, the following 2 recovery case studies are my own.
In one case I detail how I overcame drug and alcohol addiction, the other, how I overcame cigarette addiction. Two very different animals, in my opinion, and both deserving of careful analysis.
Hopefully you can learn something from each of them.
* Why look at case studies?
* Why differentiate between nicotine addiction and drug addiction? Aren’t all addictions the same?
* Early recovery techniques for drug and alcohol addiction.
* Long term recovery techniques for drug and alcohol addiction.
* Early recovery techniques for nicotine addiction.
* Long term recovery techniques for nicotine addiction.
* Practical conclusions.
Why look at case studies?
If you have ever been to a speaker meeting in Alcoholics Anonymous, then you sort of know the idea of the case study in recovery. Someone stands up and tells their story of addiction and recovery….specifically, “what it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.”
Instead of telling you how you should recover, all they are doing is presenting their own experience. “Here is what happened to me. Here is how it worked for me. This is what I did and these are the results.” In essence, they are presenting their own case study.
This has the potential to be more powerful than simply stating which recovery strategies people should use, because it actually illustrates what actions worked best for a person in their life. Someone can follow along and say “Yeah, that makes sense, and I can see myself in that situation, so these ideas might work for me too.” It can be as simple as sharing our experience with each other, so that we can learn how to stay sober through our shared knowledge.
Case studies are powerful because the results speak for themselves. You can argue against the methods all day long, but if the person telling their case study has an incredible new life in recovery and is enjoying many blessings in different areas of their life, then it is hard to discount that. It doesn’t mean that they have found the one true path in recovery, it only means that they have found an effective path that worked great for them. Success speaks for itself.
If you have spent considerable time on this website then you know that I am blessed beyond measure. I have an awesome life in recovery and I’m about 3 weeks away from celebrating 10 years of continuous clean time. I also have over 5 years of clean time from nicotine. I have a whole bunch of blessings in my life and stuff just keeps getting better and better. So I wanted to share my own 2 personal case studies to help illustrate the exact recovery methods that worked for me.
They might work for you and they might not. Regardless, it is certainly worth putting it out there to see if it might help someone. I love my results that I have in recovery and I will tell you exactly what I did to get here. (I will try to highlight the key points and eliminate the irrelevant fluff of course).
You will also notice that I split each case study up into “short term recovery techniques” and “long term recovery techniques.” This is because we need to do different things when we are first fighting an addiction than we have to do in order to maintain our sobriety in the long run. People grow and change in recovery and thus short term tactics for beating an addiction will always be different than the long term “maintenance mode” that you will want to adopt. Those who relapse are people who have failed to move past their early tactics and failed to adopt a healthy long term strategy.
Why differentiate between nicotine addiction and drug addiction? Aren’t all addictions the same?
My experience in recovery is that drug/alcohol addiction and nicotine addiction are two very different things.
I know that some people disagree with this, and have been able to treat nicotine as being “just another drug.” Personally, I got clean and sober from drugs and alcohol, but continued to smoke cigarettes for almost five years before I finally managed to quit those, too.
I found it to be much more challenging (but in a different way) to kick the cigarettes than it was to get clean and sober. Perhaps that is a misleading statement though because honestly, the two addictions are just so vastly different….I really don’t think you can compare them.
I guess the best way for me to explain it is that drug and alcohol addiction are what I would call a “lifestyle addiction” and the cigarette addiction is really more “behavioral” in nature. I use those terms loosely for lack of better words but I think they come close to describing the difference. I also believe those terms help point towards the solutions as well. In overcoming drug addiction I had to focus more on lifestyle changes….huge, big impact, lifestyle changes. The nicotine addiction required a very different approach.
So we will explore them both here and take a look at the exact techniques that I used to overcome each one. Keep in mind that in my own personal journey, I first got clean and sober, went about 5 years in recovery, then finally quit the nicotine as well.
Early recovery techniques for drug and alcohol addiction
What I actually did:
* Surrendered, then went to detox and short term residential treatment.
* From there, went straight into long term rehab, lived there for 20 months. Consulted regularly with a therapist. Group therapy 2X week.
* Made a zero tolerance policy with myself about drugs and alcohol, made this my number one priority in life. Truly.
* Did 90 meetings in 90 days, dropped quickly to 3 a week, trailed off to zero at the end of the first 2 years.
* Started working part time after a few months.
* Started going back to college, part time, around the one year mark.
* Pushed myself hard to explore spirituality in the first six months.
* Worked closely with a sponsor on written stepwork in the first 2 years, shared a very thorough 4th step with him.
* Made a deliberate plan to leave long term rehab and moved in with another recovering addict.
So that is what I actually did in the first 2 years of my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I think that was pretty much “early recovery” for me, and after that I started to transition into what I would call “long term recovery.”
More description of my early recovery period:
In very early recovery from addiction I was quite scared and very nervous to even venture out of the long term rehab center. At the time I thought this was a bit pathetic but looking back now I can see that many of my overconfident friends ended up relapsing early.
One of the biggest shifts in how I was living my life at that time was that I was taking suggestions. Before I got clean and sober, I had this stubborn idea in my head that I was in the driver’s seat, I was in charge, and my life had to built based on my input alone. There was an element of pride in this, that I had to figure everything out on my own and make my own way.
The big shift in attitude was that I surrendered to my disease and started taking suggestions. It was as if I threw up my hands and said “I don’t know how to live life. I am no good at it. Please show me how to live. Tell me what to do.” This was a very humbling change in attitude but that is the point that I was broken down to. I was at that point because I was miserable even though I had access to all the drugs and alcohol that I needed. It just wasn’t making me happy. I realized this for the first time and accepted the fact that I was no longer happy by doing drugs and alcohol all the time. It was no longer working and I had to accept that at a really deep level. When I did finally accept that, this was my moment of surrender.
I started to notice at even just a few weeks into my sobriety that taking suggestions was going to work out great. My life was gaining stability and good things were starting to happen. People told me what to do and I did it, and this was granting me a great deal of freedom. It seemed like a paradox because I would have thought that taking suggestions from others would be a complete sacrifice of myself and that I would become a non-person. The reality was that by taking suggestions from others in recovery, my life kept getting better and better, and I also became a stronger and stronger person.
I watched a lot of people relapse all around me while I was in early recovery. Almost all of them talked a good game, and had lots to share in meetings, but I could not help but notice over the first year that pretty much everybody relapses. Very few people stay in it for the long haul. I was constantly pushing myself to figure out the common thread among the “winners” in recovery.
From a practical standpoint I quickly figured out, within the first month of my recovery, that the most important thing was not to put a drug or a drink into my body. Complete abstinence from all drugs was my number one priority in life, period. So many people in recovery screw this up. So many people in recovery put other things above this in priority. For example, relationship with a higher power. Now that might be a subtle point but I had it very straight in my head: my most important goal in life was not to put drugs or alcohol into my body. Today, I refer to that idea as “the zero tolerance policy.” I have a zero tolerance policy for putting any drugs or alcohol into my system. I simply will not let it happen, period. Everything else in (my) life must flow from that policy.
I watched so many addicts and alcoholics in early recovery talk a great game in meetings, only to relapse. I did not want to be that person. So in my own mind, I created this zero tolerance policy, and then I spent all of my time and energy trying to enforce it, to make life challenging and enjoyable enough so that I would never get to a point of complete misery and say “Screw it, I’m just gonna get wasted.”
I made a point to try to actually follow this policy, without trying to convince others that I was doing well in recovery. I watched others at meetings very carefully, and so many people are just trying to convince themselves (while speaking at an AA meeting) that they are doing the things that they need to do for recovery. People spent so much energy convincing others that they were on the right path and talking a good game. I decided early on that I would spend zero energy in trying to convince others, and simply spend my energy being on the right path and enforcing my own zero tolerance policy with myself.
My goal was to stay clean and sober, period. Actually do it through positive action and not focus on talking about it. Sounds simple, yes…..but I would say at least 95 percent of everyone in recovery would rather talk about it rather than put in the positive action and work.
But it should be obvious to anyone who attends AA or NA for a while that it is the doing…..not the talking….that keeps people straight.
So if I had to summarize the strategies and techniques that most helped me in early recovery, they would be:
* Ask for help, then take suggestions. Do what people tell you to do. Humble yourself to that level.
* Get it mentally straight: your most important priority in life is not using drugs or alcohol, period. This is #1. Always.
* Dedicate your life to recovery by taking massive action. Therapy, meetings, rehab, support…do anything and everything that helps. Don’t hold back. Immerse yourself in recovery.
Long term recovery techniques for drug and alcohol addiction
As I stayed clean and sober in my early recovery, I started to accumulate some more clean time and I was slowly shifting into “long term recovery.” I noticed at this time that many recovering addicts and alcoholics around me did not make this transition so smoothly. In fact, many people relapsed while still using “early recovery techniques,” and they failed to make the jump to long term sobriety.
Now I am not sure exactly by what mechanism I made this shift, but I do know that I made it. I am just shy of 10 years clean, and my life is very different today than it was during my first two years of recovery. And here is a key point that everyone needs to fully grasp, because it is vitally important:
The things I do to stay clean and sober today are vastly different from the things I did in my first 2 years of recovery.
This is a huge point and I hope that you give it careful consideration. Many addicts stay stuck using early recovery tactics and they eventually fail them as they try to transition into “real life living in long term recovery.” They think that the answer was “more meetings” or just more of the same, when in fact, they had to evolve and grow in order to make real progress.
You have already seen what actions I took in very early recovery. Now, here is what I actually do now that I am living in long term recovery at almost 10 years sober:
* Try to help others in recovery.
* Push myself to seek holistic health (such as through exercise, better nutrition, sleep, emotional stability, better relationships, spirituality, etc.) Emphasis is on taking action and making real growth.
More description of long term recovery from drugs and alcohol:
Holistic health is the key. I say “holistic” just encompass all forms of health: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, etc.
My opinion is that pushing yourself toward holistic health is a strong key to long term recovery. There are so many direct and indirect benefits to doing so.
* Healthier living.
* Less stress.
* Less disease, sickness.
* More fit, in shape, feel energized.
* More emotional stability.
* Spiritual growth.
* Strong relapse prevention.
* Better disease prevention.
* Leads to a balanced lifestyle.
* More learning opportunities.
And so on.
Everyone’s path in growing holistically might be different. For example, I tend to focus on exercise quite heavily, but may not experience much growth in terms of healthy eating or nutrition. Others might be the opposite, or focus on other areas entirely.
The point is that you push yourself toward healthier living in all areas of your life. Make an effort. Push yourself to make real growth, and become healthier.
If you are doing well in recovery then your self esteem will rise as you allow yourself to start caring for yourself more and more. Thus, you should become interested in your own health, and being a healthier person. If you have a gift to give the world, then you owe it to the world to be as healthy and effective as you can be.
In long term recovery, the push for holistic health should become one of your strong (if not the main) focal points.
Notice that, in addition to the push for better health, the other action that I take in long term recovery is to help others who are trying to recover.
This should be emphasized strongly as being a huge key to my own success, and I would urge others to incorporate it into their long term plans. If you set your life up so that you are always helping others in recovery in some way, then your recovery will be that much stronger as a result. In fact, I would say this is one of the strongest forms of relapse prevention that is available.
12 step programs mirror this with the idea of twelve step work, and carrying the message to others who might seek recovery. Sponsoring newcomers is another example that can yield good results (as long as you leave your ego out of it).
Involvement in 12 step programs are probably the easiest way to work with others in recovery, but there are other ways as well. I do so through my job (at a local drug rehab) and also through this website. But even without that, pretty much all of my friends and many of my associations are with people in the recovery community.
Allow me to recap that real quick…the 2 most powerful strategies for long term sobriety are:
1) Helping other recovering addicts and alcoholics, and
2) Really pushing yourself towards better health in all areas of your life (holistic growth).
So those are my thoughts on short term and long term strategies for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. Let’s shift gears now and take a look at nicotine addiction, and what actually worked for me in finally beating the cigarettes.
Early recovery techniques for nicotine addiction
Now I am sure there are all sorts of success stories out there by people who have overcome nicotine and cigarette addiction by using various quitting devices. But because this is a specific case study, I will tell you exactly what worked for me, and how it worked.
First of all, however, let me give you the quick background, and what did NOT work for me.
After just a few months into my recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, I decided that I wanted to quit smoking cigarettes. So I actually did try to quit when I had less than a year of sobriety. I do not necessarily think this is a mistake, though some people argue that it is. Whatever. If your sobriety is hanging by a thread, such that trying to quit smoking is going to push you into a full fledged relapse, then I don’t think much of your sobriety to begin with. That is no excuse. If you want to quit smoking in recovery, you can do it, without threatening your own sobriety. Don’t cling to false excuses.
So I tried to quit smoking very early on and I ended up trying to quit many, many times over the next 4 years or so, and repeatedly failed. It was not until I had about 4 and half years clean and sober that I finally was able to quit for good and make it stick.
Some of the things that I tried that did NOT work for me were:
* Using the nicotine patch.
* Using medications that were prescribed for quitting smoking.
* Using “quitting buddies” to help me quit.
* Setting up punishments for myself if I failed to quit.
* Switching to cigars.
* Smoking nicotine free cigarettes.
I tried all of that stuff, some of it several times, and none of it worked for me. Now some of those tactics might work for you, and if they do, that is great. One idea that I think is important to emphasize in overcoming a nicotine addiction is this:
It may take many, many tries before you kick cigarettes for good, so do not give up, and be willing to try different methods of quitting.
Persistence pays, at least it did for me. To be honest, all of my friends were sick of me trying to quit. They would say “here we go again!” I had tried so many times and failed. Luckily I stuck with it, until something finally worked.
So what worked?
Here is what I did that finally resulted in a successful quit:
* I learned from past quitting attempts what my weaknesses were, then I took steps to overcome them (more on this below).
* I spent a lot of time, money, and resources on preparation for my quit. I did this by taking time off of work, and also by saving money so that I could reward myself properly. I planned this several months in advance. Why not? The alternative is to keep smoking and lose thousands of dollars per year.
* I planned a special vacation to reward myself when I quit. I have heard people say “Oh, I could never afford to do that.” Ummmm…..do you realize how much you spend on cigarettes over the course of a decade? You could probably take a year and explore Europe in style with that kind of money. A weekend getaway to reward yourself for quitting is a very wise investment, in my opinion.
* For me, day 2 through 4 was the worst, so I skipped it. How? I slept through it. How? By staying up for almost 48 hours straight with no sleep prior to that time period. [Do not underestimate the effectiveness of this strategy. I attribute almost all of my success to this. Sleeping through the worst part of my withdrawal was the smartest thing I ever did!]
* I learned a lot about how my body reacts to nicotine, so that I could compensate during the first awful week of withdrawal. For me, sipping on fruit juices nearly all day long did the trick in regulating my sugar (rather than binging on sweets and feeling stuffed or sick afterward).
* I bought flavored toothpicks and hard candies to give my mouth something to do (helped with the oral fixation aspect of smoking).
These are the exact strategies that I used. This is the stuff that actually worked for me. Yes, I really did all of this stuff when I quit smoking over 5 years ago. (I have saved roughly $9,000 dollars since then by not buying cigarettes, by the way!)
Long term recovery techniques for nicotine addiction
This is where we see a bit of overlap with drug and alcohol addiction, in my opinion. The long term strategies for overcoming nicotine addiction should be quite similar to that of overcoming drug addiction.
When you are treating drug, alcohol, or nicotine addiction, the early stages need to be quite specific. Detoxifying may require specific drugs or medical supervision. Getting past nicotine withdrawal is a whole different animal than, say, overcoming alcoholism. In the short term, quitting different drugs is….well, different.
But in the long run, after you have been clean for a while from each chemical, the strategies for remaining clean start to converge. This is because it becomes less and less physical over time, and more about the mental aspect and the lifestyle changes.
Therefore, the long term strategy for remaining smoke free and nicotine free resemble that of long term recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.
I would again emphasize these 3 main points:
* Zero tolerance policy – they have a saying over at whyquit.com about cigarettes: NTAP = “Never Take Another Puff.” This is may sound simple or even stupid but it needs to become your mantra. The insidious nature of addiction will allow you to take a single puff from a cigarette after you have quit, and think that you got away with it. Guess what will happen next? You will try it again some day….sneak another puff in there! DON’T do it. Ever. Never take another puff. Never.
* Holistic health – I know I harp on this but it is so important. If you are not pushing yourself for better health in different areas of your life then I think you are making a mistake. Seek better nutrition for yourself, start exercising, seek emotional balance, reconnect spiritually, and so on. Don’t get overwhelmed with it, just tackle one thing at a time and keep moving forward. Positive action yields positive results.
* Personal growth – Long term recovery is about learning, living, and growing as a person. If you are not pushing yourself to learn new things and to grow in your recovery, then you are making a mistake and you risk sliding back towards a relapse. This is true of drug, alcohol, or nicotine addiction. Some people relapse on cigarettes out of sheer boredom. If you are pushing yourself to grow you will NOT be board with your life. No excuses.
The other main factor is that you cannot revert to using cigarettes as a coping mechanism. Things cannot “get so bad that you had to smoke a cigarette.” This is a poor excuse and one that you can never allow yourself to use. As such, you need to learn how to cope with life without resorting to self medication through smoking. How do you do that?
Practice. Keep abstaining from nicotine, and make it through each challenge that comes up. This builds strength. Push yourself toward personal growth and holistic health and you will be on the path to a strong recovery. You will learn to cope with life without cigarettes when you start mastering the discipline necessary to push yourself forward and learn new things.
For me, exercise in particular is a huge part of my long term recovery strategy for nicotine. I could not dream of lighting up a cigarette these days because I run too hard and too often. Running has become such an integral part of who I am that I could not just sacrifice that for a few puffs on a cigarette.
Nearly everyone underestimates at first how powerful exercise will be in alleviating the urge to smoke. If you are out of shape, I admit that it will take hard work to get comfortable with regular exercise. But the protection it offers against relapse (as well as the additional health benefits) are well worth it.
Whether you are trying to overcome drug addiction and alcoholism, or trying to quit smoking cigarettes, the solution can almost always be broken into 2 distinct phases:
1) Detox/short term recovery, and
2) Long term recovery.
The short term phase is all about surrendering, asking for help, and taking massive action.
Long term recovery is all about personal growth and seeking holistic health.
Regardless of what substance you are trying to quit, the basic principles are the same. Early nicotine cessation presents a slightly different challenge from other drugs (in my opinion) due to a number of factors. It can still be overcome with careful planning and raw determination.
Overcoming drug or alcohol addiction is more about that initial state of surrender. Once the addict is beat down enough to stop fighting and trying to control their drug intake, real recovery becomes possible if they are willing to ask for help and take direction. Getting through the early stages without relapse is all about taking action.
In all cases, remaining drug, alcohol, and nicotine free is all about holistic health + personal growth. The path will differ from person to person, but the basic principles will remain the same. If you push yourself to grow in recovery you will do well. If you get lazy and complacent you can expect to relapse eventually.
Recovery from any substance takes work, and that means continuous, positive action. Easy? No. Worth it? Yes. Put in the effort and your life will get better and better, every day.
Ask yourself: What am I doing to push myself to grow in long term recovery? How am I pushing myself to grow outside of my comfort zone?