Jul 4, 2022 | By Tim Stoddart

Getting sober: How to get sober and start your recovery


Getting sober: How to get sober and start your recovery

For many people, the labels that we use in recovery circles can be off-putting. The terms addict or alcoholic feel stigmatizing to many people and often are a roadblock to their willingness to reach out for help. While none of us can officially pronounce someone an “addict” we do have criteria by which we gauge behavior that leads us to believe there is a dependency, both physically and emotionally to a substance or a behavior. This is where the more recent terms, substance use disorder, or alcohol use disorder may be more palatable. It is often easier to get a patient to admit to having a disorder than an addiction simply because of perceived stigmatizing language.

When To Be Concerned:

When we see individuals with a significant history of substance abuse, ignoring unwanted outcomes, being willing to blow through potentially negative consequences to get to engage in certain behaviors, lying and deceiving others to get to engage in their behaviors, and especially manifestations of physical addiction such as withdrawal symptoms, we can be certain that their relationship with a substance has moved into the category of dependency.

Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal:

  • Shaking, sweating, 
  • Sleeplessness, 
  • Irritability and agitation, 
  • Nausea and vomiting, 
  • Intestinal upset, 
  • Difficulty processing thoughts

Addictive behavior is not something that we put on hold for a weekend or set aside simply because we have something that requires our attention. Addiction is something that is ongoing and individuals who find themselves in this category are most often going to try to manage it secretly, especially if something they value is at stake. Without professional help, a medically supervised detox, and a significant amount of isolated attention focused on learning to live soberly these individuals will continue to be a threat to themselves and others, especially if they are active in their addiction while being placed in positions of responsibility and authority.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

An assessment of the individual and their history of alcohol/substance use by a trained professional could be of upmost consideration for those who are struggling with accepting their dependency. We know that very often a substance use disorder is accompanied by other mental health issues creating what we call, co-occurring disorders. This can be depression, acute anxiety, or even more serious issues regarding personality or cognitive impairment making long-term sobriety even more challenging. The brain of an individual who drinks heavily or abuses a substance is not going to return to its optimal function simply because they haven’t been drinking or using for a few hours or even days. It takes ongoing weeks and months to allow the brain to adjust to not depending on a substance to enhance its work and function. With a co-occurring disorders medication is often necessary before someone can anticipate a good outcome regarding getting sober.

The Decision for Change:

Once an individual concludes that there is a problem managing a behavior or substance it is important for the next immediate step to be one of accountability. Sharing the reality of their situation with a trusted friend, counselor, or medical professional will be paramount. The next step often requires help assessing what plan for recovery is most realistic and doable for an individual. 

Choosing A Care Plan:

  • 12-Step Meetings

These are meetings built around the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and adapted to any number of other addictions and behaviors. These groups are free and available at almost any time of the day in most cities. 12-step recovery is one of the most used resources for individuals suffering from addiction and desiring to live soberly.

  • Intensive Outpatient Programs

IOP programs are appealing to many people seeking sobriety because it is not a residential program but rather a program meeting a few hours a day for several days or weeks. IOP programs vary in length and cost but are typically run by addiction professionals as well as recovering peers. IOP programs are sometimes covered by certain insurance plans as well which is also appealing. IOP’s tend to offer less individual work and tend to be more group oriented but some offer individual therapy as well. 

  • Partial Hospitalization

This type of program exists to help patients who are leaving residential programs as a “step down” program for a few hours a day. Like an IOP, Partial Hospitalization Programs meet in groups and tend to focus on returning to life after treatment. They can however play a role as the primary means of recovery care for those whom inpatient treatment is not ideal or possible.

  • Residential Treatment

These programs are inpatient programs requiring checking in to specific facilities designated for addiction recovery care. Many have medically assisted detox available and often accept insurance. A typical stay is about 28 days, but best outcomes have been shown to present after 60- and 90-day stays. These programs tend to focus on group meetings, individual therapy, trust building exercises, getting nutritionally sound health plans adopted, and helping patients find a specific spiritual practice. Many include family weekends or family programs as well as several activities within the treatment center campus to make for a rewarding and restructuring experience for the patient.

Finding A Tribe:

One of the most beneficial things we can do as we continue to make recovery a lifestyle is to find a tribe – a group of like-minded, similarly struggling, supportive and sober people that can be depended upon to create a sense of belonging and safety. This group may not be the people we choose to socialize with but rather the group we depend on for wisdom, encouragement, hope, and support. It is also the group we invest ourselves in as well. Being a part of something greater than ourselves is of upmost importance in continued sobriety.

The decision to change old behaviors is never easy but implementing these basic strategies make the difference in eliminating setbacks and experiencing our best outcomes.

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