I have found through my years working in a substance abuse program that many lessons can be applied to life outside of substance abuse treatment. One of my favorite lessons is the Three Stages of the Recovery Process: Addiction, Sobriety, and Recovery. These stages can apply to any problem/period of change. As we go through the three stages, I will explain how this applies to a person who abuses substances and how it can relate to the non-substance abuser.
- Addiction– While in the stage of addiction, a person uses as much as the want whenever they want. They are content in their choices and do not see their behavior as problematic, even when there are severe consequences. In terms of addiction, the further you are into the problem the harder it is to see that it exists. While in here, the substance user is happy because their actions match their beliefs and they are doing what they want. Have you ever heard the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know until you know what you didn’t know”? That’s how life works. We can be living in a problem, perfectly happy, because we aren’t aware that it is a problem in the first place. It is only when others bring it to our attention do we realize things may not be quite right. Often our change process begins with motivation outside of ourselves. A friend, family member, spouse, doctor, etc. tells us “Hey, there’s a problem and you need to change”. Only then do most people to know what they didn’t know and consider/attempt change.
- Sobriety– In the stage of sobriety, a substance user wants to use but doesn’t. They may have been told by family, an employer, or judge even that the must change or XYZ will happen. (That outside motivating factor I mention earlier.) The problem here is the person may not be sure if they want to change. Therefore cognitive dissonance sets in and this period is miserable. Cognitive dissonance happens anytime our actions and our beliefs do not line up. It is that annoyed feeling you get when you eat fruit for dessert instead of cake because you are trying to diet per doctors orders. In this part of the process, a person has not internalized motivation for change. They are only acting a certain way for someone else. They are in the limbo of decision making.
- Recovery– Here is where happiness comes back. The substance user uses as much as they want, they just don’t want to use. They have internalized their motivating factors and changed because THEY decided it is what they truly wanted. It is only when we change for ourselves and nothing else that change is permanent. Other people can motivate us but if we do not alter what we believe in ourselves cognitive dissonance cannot be restored. We will resort back to old behaviors. With peace and balance restored, we can move forward on our new path.