In 2010, 1.6 million people entered treatment programs due to alcohol abuse, and 1.5 million people entered specialty treatment programs due to drug use, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The moment at which someone chooses to enroll in treatment is a profound one, as it signals a specific point in time in which a person chooses to fight back against the addiction and try to make life better. But real recovery from addiction takes more than a moment to accomplish. In fact, people who really want to recover from an addiction are required to perform a number of steps, and each step could take years to complete. It’s hard work, but the results can be amazing. These are just a few of the steps that are typically involved in the recovery process.

Intervention: The First Step

Before people can enroll in the treatment programs that can help them to achieve long-term sobriety, they need to admit that they have difficulties with substances that they’re unable to handle without help. It seems like a simple concept, but people who struggle with addiction are often in deep denial about the impact of their habits and the way in which their choices will play out over time. Rather than admitting that they have a disease only therapy can heal, they may believe that:

  • They can quit at any time.
  • They don’t abuse drugs or alcohol; they just use them.

  • Substance use is a private matter that harms no one.
  • They’re just using drugs temporarily, and when the pain abates, they’ll stop.

An intervention is designed to help families to break through this denial, so the addicted person can see the impact of the drug use clearly. Some families use a letter-writing format, in which they outline the changes they’ve seen and the ways in which therapy might help. Others utilize a lecture format, in which the addicted person and the family learn together about how addictions develop and how they are treated. Still others hold informal discussions on a one-on-one basis, hoping to persuade the person without using any kind of formal discussion at all.

Researchers are curious about the effectiveness of these different intervention techniques, and they’ve done a number of studies that are designed to prove that one format works better than the other.

Collaborative Learning

In one such study, in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers found that using a collaborative, learning approach was most effective, as 64 percent of people approached in this way agreed to enter a treatment program.

But any intervention could be useful for people who are dealing with addiction. These conversations are proactive, and they allow families to speak openly and honestly about the changes they want to see. As long as families remain positive, and get help if the conversation seems volatile or dangerous, interventions can be marvelously effective in getting addicted people into treatment programs.

Detox: Healing the Body

While people who agree to get help at the end of an intervention might want to get sober, they might be physically unable to do so without help. For example, people who drink alcohol to excess for many years may develop chemical changes inside the cells of the brain, and they may go into seizures when alcohol is no longer available. A study of the issue in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism suggests that the death rate due to this alcohol withdrawal syndrome is low, standing at about 6.6 percent, but detox programs might take that death rate to zero through medications and medical monitoring. Enrolling in detox is just vital for some addictions, as the threat of death or long-term damage lingers when no help is provided.

But even addictions that don’t cause life-threatening complications during withdrawal might merit treatment in detox. For example, people who have addictions to heroin might not face seizures or other serious complications during detox, but they might feel as though they have a horrible case of the flu that simply will not end, and the cravings they feel for drugs can be overwhelming. Without help from a detox program, a person like this might relapse to drugs because the discomfort is too great. A detox program can keep that relapse from happening.

In detox, patients are provided with medications, counseling, monitoring and more, so they can transition from intoxication to sobriety in a safe and controlled manner. Often, programs like this can be completed in a matter of days, although people with complex or long-standing addiction histories might need a longer amount of time in the detox process.


Rehab: Healing the Mind

When people emerge from detox programs, they’re physically sober. Their bodies have adjusted to a lack of drugs, and they’re not facing any symptoms associated with acute intoxication. But these people may have no idea what they’ll need to do in order to preserve that sobriety. All of the habits that once supported the addiction are still in place, and all of the triggers that sparked their drug use might still play a role in the person’s life. There’s still a lot of healing to do, and a rehab program is designed to help.

In rehab, people have access to mental health practitioners who can help, including:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists

  • Social workers
  • Counselors

Patients might spend hours each day working with these mental health practitioners, examining how the addiction developed and how their habits sustained that addiction through the years. Patients might also spend time with alternative health care providers, learning more about techniques they can use to soothe their minds and tap into their sense of inner strength. Massages, meditation sessions, art therapy classes and more might also be involved in a typical treatment day.

Sharing Insight

While expert practitioners might provide insights a person with an addiction might desperately need, peers might also have lessons worth sharing.

Someone new to recovery, for example, might be able to remind a person with months of sobriety how hard it is to get clean, while a long-term survivor might inspire someone new to do the work and recover. Sharing like this can be powerful, and support groups can make that sharing easy. Support groups like this are also associated with long-term sobriety. For example, in a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers found that the number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a person attends in the first three years of recovery predicted addiction remission and lower levels of depression at the eight-year level. Just going to meetings helps, these studies suggest, and many rehab facilities mandate this kind of participation.

Attending counseling and therapy sessions and participating in support group meetings may leave little time for anything else, and often, people who dedicate a significant amount of time to the recovery process are able to get sober and maintain that sobriety through the course of the treatment program. But, when the program is complete, more work must be done in order to prevent a backslide to bad habits.

Aftercare: Transitioning to a Sober Life

Typically, when the intensive portion of rehab is complete, patients stay engaged in recovery by attending periodic outpatient counseling sessions and attending regular support group meetings. Staying in touch with recovery in this way helps people to continue to grow and learn, even while they’re gaining the freedom that could allow them to relapse. Their connection helps them to stay on the right path.

But some people face such significant challenges in their homes and in their communities that they simply cannot leave intensive care behind. When they move home, their dealers might put pressure on them to use, or they may live with family members who use. People like this might need a safe and sober place to live after treatment is complete, so they can practice their sober skills in a relatively secure environment that doesn’t allow for easy relapse.

Sober living communities can help. Here, people live in a semi-restricted environment with a group of peers who are also dedicated to the sober life. Urine screens can help ensure that no relapses take place, and the rules involved in these facilities help those new to sobriety to learn about how to build a life that’s structured, satisfying and sober. Some people move into these facilities after rehab and stay for just a month or two, until they feel comfortable enough to apply the lessons in their own homes. But some people choose to stay enrolled in these homes for months or even years.

Maintenance: Sticking to the Program

While a person who has been sober for months might feel secure in that sobriety, research suggests that the risk of relapse is always present. For example, in a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers suggest that alcoholics with five years of abstinence still face a three percent annual risk of relapsing. That risk might never, ever go away, but by maintaining good habits, people might maintain their sobriety in the future.


For some, support groups play a key role. In a support group setting, they can continue to discuss their addiction and learn from their peers, and they might be inspired or motivated by the lessons they learn in each and every session. For others, getting involved in church or a community movement helps, as it provides their lives with meaning and allows them to focus on doing good, rather than getting high. For others, being involved in a treatment alumni program is vital, as this allows them the opportunity to maintain a connection with the providers that allowed sobriety to take hold.

At Black Bear Lodge, we encourage our patients to remember that addictions are chronic conditions that can be managed but not eradicated. We provide the tools people might use in order to get sober, and we help patients to develop the insights they’ll need in order to stay sober, and we support the lifelong learning of each person we help. Please call us; we’d like to tell you more.