This article is part four in a five part column on recovery, mental health and substance abuse.
How long does it take before a person is safely in recovery after a long period of heavy substance use? Three months? Six months? One year? Can’t they just go through detox for a few days and be done with it?
In my job, I’ve read close to 150 recovery stories. All but a handful had at least one relapse, often several. A relapse is not failure, but part of recovery. Recovering from addiction is a lifelong process of hard work and dedication to one’s program and recovery path.
It can take at least a year of abstinence before an individual can be said to be in remission. For people recovering from an alcohol use disorder, it can take four to five years. That’s how long it takes for the brain to recover. Yet, there’s more to it than that.
It’s not unusual for a person to have been using drugs throughout adolescence and early adulthood, thereby missing out on learning how to “do life.” Basic employment skills such as showing up to work and being on time can be absent, making it hard to get and keep a job. Any felonies on their record make it especially hard to find a job.
Knowing how to live by a budget, making sure the rent or mortgage is paid, paying bills on time and having healthy eating habits all have to be learned, or re-learned.
One of the primary contributors to relapse is stress. It’s important to learn how to manage and deal with stress, as well as anger and other intense emotions since these are the types of feelings that previously led to substance abuse.
Dealing with past trauma may also be required. Therapy is important for most people on their way to recovery. Turning to drugs or alcohol is often a way to medicate a hurt or pain that a person would rather avoid or ignore. He or she may not even realize it’s there. Like weeds, these issues need to be pulled up by the roots; otherwise they’ll keep coming up over and over again.
All of this is monumental to do. As with other chronic conditions, people with substance use disorders need support through the long process of returning to a healthy and productive life. They may need this support longer than you might have initially thought.
This is why ongoing recovery support in the community is vital for helping individuals resist relapse and rebuild their lives. This includes support networks, peer coaching, recovery housing and group meetings like the AA 12-step program. Being involved with the recovery community is vital to avoiding relapse.
Vernal’s “Recovery Community” includes the groups AA, NA, ARP, Al Anon and Alateen. A Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) group, for families will be starting October 16. CRAFT is a non-confrontational approach to getting a loved one to enter addiction treatment. For more information, contact Debi Prisbrey at (435) 681-1245.
Vernal is a great place to raise families yet, like many rural towns across this country, we have our share of those who suffer with substance use disorders. More than 25 million individuals in the United States with a previous substance use disorder are in remission today and living healthy, productive lives. Let’s see how many people Vernal can add to that.
Susan Mansfield, MSW, CSW, is director, Utah State University CPSS Training Program at Utah State University - Uintah Basin