4 Stages of Alcohol and Drug Rehab Recovery

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When you decide to enter a professional alcohol and drug treatment program, you will begin a journey through four distinct stages of rehab recovery as you learn to develop a healthy and sober lifestyle.

The four stages of rehab described here—treatment initiation, early abstinence, maintaining abstinence, and advanced recovery—were developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for its "An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction" resource for healthcare providers. In this model, recovery is a lifelong process.

Stage 1: Treatment Initiation

When you reach out for help from a professional alcohol and drug rehab program, you begin the first stage of your recovery, treatment initiation.

Whether you seek help voluntarily or you are forced by circumstances to enter rehab, your recovery process will begin with a professional treatment program.

In the early hours and days of your rehab, you probably will have some ambivalent feelings about giving up your drug of choice permanently and you may think that your substance abuse problem is not as bad as others. Beware. Ambivalence and denial can be your worst enemies in the first days of your recovery.

Stage 2: Early Abstinence

Once you have made a commitment to continue treatment for your substance abuse problem, you will enter the second stage of rehab known as early abstinence. This can be the toughest stage to cope with because of many factors, including continued withdrawal symptoms, physical cravings, psychological dependence, and a host of triggers that can tempt you into a relapse.

It is during this early abstinence stage that your trained addiction counselor will begin to teach you the coping skills that you need to begin to lead a sober lifestyle. The tools that you learn to use now will help you throughout your recovery.

Stage 3: Maintaining Abstinence

After approximately 90 days of continuous abstinence, you will move from the early abstinence stage of recovery to the third stage, maintaining abstinence. If you started in a residential treatment program, you will now move to the continuing or follow-up counseling phase of your rehab program on an outpatient basis.

One focus of this stage of rehab is obviously to maintain abstinence by avoiding a relapse. You will learn the warning signs and the steps that can lead up to a relapse.

Also during this stage of your rehabilitation, you will learn to put the tools that you learned in early abstinence to use in other areas of your life so that you can continue to live a truly sober lifestyle. You will discover that your future quality of life depends on more than simply not using.

You will learn new coping skills and tools to help you build healthy relationships, develop a ​drug-free lifestyle, manage ​anger, utilize ​exercise and nutrition, learn ​employment and money management skills, and avoid ​substituting addictions.

The maintaining abstinence stage of rehab will begin at about three months into your rehabilitation program and last until you reach approximately five years clean and sober, at which time the follow-up counseling will usually terminate.

Stage 4: Advanced Recovery

After approximately five years of abstinence, you will reach the fourth and final stage of your rehab: advanced recovery. It is that this point that you take all the tools and skills that you have learned during your rehab counseling and put them to use living a satisfying, fulfilling life.

Not only will you able to remain sober, but you will also have the skills to become a healthier person, a better spouse and parent, a productive member of society, and a good neighbor and citizen. Recovery is much more than merely staying sober. It's learning to live a happier and healthier life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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