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Drug addiction is a compulsive need to seek out and use drugs, even when you know it leads to negative physical, mental and social consequences. A core concept in drug addiction recovery is to realise that drug addiction affects the way your brain works. Even if you start abusing drugs voluntarily, you soon move to the point where you can’t control your drug taking. It then controls you and your normal functioning within society starts to unravel. At this point, you are considered to have a drug addiction disease.

This article on drug addiction recovery is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.


A first step in drug addiction recovery is to realise that you are addicted and that you need help. But turning your life around is not an easy process. And, like other chronic illnesses, even if you are well into drug addiction recovery, you can experience a relapse and start taking drugs again after months or years of being ‘clean’.

How do you move towards drug addiction recovery?

Effective drug addiction treatment varies depending on the type of drug in question and how severe the addiction is. If it is mild, then there is a higher chance of a full drug addiction recovery with treatment. If your addiction is more severe, it may be physically difficult for you to stop using drugs, and so the treatment you have may need to be more intense and for a longer period of time. In most cases, drug addiction treatment is not a short-term fix. Breaking the habit and getting into drug addiction recovery often takes far longer than becoming addicted in the first place.

Studies have shown that, as with other anxiety or depression, the most effective drug addiction treatment takes into account your specific circumstances. For drug addiction recovery to be possible, it’s essential that treatment addresses all aspects of your life, including your medical and mental health and your family and social situation. Since your needs change throughout your recovery process, the programme should be continually assessed and adjusted over time for the best results.

The main steps

Drug addiction recovery needs to take place over a period of weeks and months and involves three main stages:

  • Detoxification: The process of eradicating the drug from your body. During this phase, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, but you can be given medication to help you cope. Methadone and buprenorphine, for example, are effective in treating withdrawal symptoms for an opiate addiction.
  • Treatment: Medication may be used throughout the drug treatment process to stabilise your behaviour or help you manage side effects such as depression or bipolar disorder.  Drug addiction recovery programmes usually also include behavioural treatment, which aims to change your attitudes and behaviour relating to drugs.
  • Drug addiction recovery follow up: Active treatment is completed but you are likely to need follow-up treatment and a lot of support to stay off drugs in the long-term. This stage of drug addiction recovery involves the formation of family and community support structures so that you’ll be less tempted to start using drugs again once you’ve stopped initial treatment. If you do relapse, you may need to revisit earlier treatment stages.

Getting into the recovery

Depending on the severity of your drug addiction, you may either be placed in an outpatient or inpatient drug treatment programme:

  • Outpatient programmes are suitable if your addiction is not severe – you’ll be treated for your addiction while still being able to work and enjoy a family support system. In general, most outpatient programmes include counselling sessions and group therapy.
  • Inpatient programmes may give you a better chance of drug addiction recovery if you have a severe addiction, since you’ll be taken out of situations where you may be tempted to relapse. Inpatient programmes can range from around three to six weeks to between six and twelve months. The most highly structured type of inpatient programme is known as a therapeutic community. Here you work with staff and other community members to learn new life skills and change your addictive behaviour.

How realistic is it?

Although it is a chronic disease, with the correct treatment, full drug addiction recovery is possible. However, given the risk of relapse, drug addiction recovery treatment is only usually effective if it is repeated over a long period of time.

What does an addict look like after recovery?

You can say that you are in full drug addiction recovery mode when you are well on the way to achieving the following:

  • You have not taken the drug that you were addicted to for a long period of time.
  • You are beginning to function normally in society – you are holding down a job or actively searching for one, you are interacting with your family and friends better and you are looking after yourself and your home.
  • You are managing to sort out your finances and not spending all your income on drugs.
  • You are playing a more active and more supportive role in your relationships.

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