The Fourth Stage of Rehab is Advanced Recovery

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When Sobriety Becomes a LIfestyle. © Getty Images

The fourth stage of alcohol and drug rehab is reaching advanced recovery in which you have achieved long-lasting abstinence and have made a commitment to continue to lead a lifelong sober lifestyle. Advanced recovery, sometimes called stable recovery, usually begins after five years of sustained abstinence.

Throughout your continuing care phase of your professional rehab program, you have not only learned to maintain abstinence, you have also learned to make more healthy and productive choices in all areas of your life. Advanced recovery is living that healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life.

Advanced recovery is the fourth of four stages of recovery or rehab defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

What Is Advanced Recovery?

As you have learned during your journey through rehab, recovery is much more than merely remaining abstinence. Of course, maintaining abstinence is a necessary part of recovery and the core of your recovery program. But if you do not make healthy choices in all areas of your life, you will find it difficult to lead a satisfying, fulfilling life.

One group of recovery experts published a definition of recovery as "a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship." Personal health involves not only to physical and mental health but also social health -- participation in family and social roles. Citizenship refers to "giving back" to the community and society.

Independence and Self-Accountability

When you have entered the advanced recovery stage, it is usually the point at which your individual follow-up or continuing care counseling will end. After five years of sustained abstinence and recovery, you are ready for greater independence and self-accountability for your own recovery, without the regular sessions with your addictions counselor.

As your counselor prepares to terminate your active treatment sessions, you will probably be asked to specify steps that you will take to establish your own continued recovery process. The goals that you have achieved will be highlighted and any areas where you may still need work will be identified.

Treatment Booster Sessions

Even after your active treatment ends, many professional rehab programs offer treatment "booster" sessions - follow-up sessions with your counselors on a much less frequent basis. These sessions offer support and feedback on your recovery program, remind you of your commitment to your recovery and are available should a crisis arise.

Even if you have been clean and sober continually for more than five years, you are still one slip away from a relapse. In spite of your success, you will still be encouraged to utilize your booster sessions and continue your participation in your mutual support groups.

After five years of sobriety, you are much less likely to have a relapse and you may not have to spend as much of a conscious effort to maintain your sober lifestyle, but your continued recovery can be a lifelong process.

The Advantage of Support-Group Membership

If you have reached the advanced stage of recovery by maintaining abstinence for five years without a relapse, you have achieved a significant milestone. Not many people in recovery make it that long without having at least one relapse along the way.

Many of those who do make it five years, however, do so because along with their professional rehab program they added the benefit of membership in a mutual support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

A significant amount of scientific evidence has found that membership in a support group, whether it is a 12-step group or a secular group, can greatly enhance your chances of achieving lasting recovery.

The accountability factor alone—showing up week after week, looking your peers in the eye, and telling them you haven't had a drink or drug—is one of the reasons that support-group members have a greater chance of obtaining long-term sobriety.

For those who have a sincere desire to stay clean and sober, the accountability of support-group fellowship is not a thing to be avoided but rather embraced.

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