When we witness a loved one or a friend who is struggling with a substance abuse issue, all of our energy and focus is on the behavior those addicted display while under the influence. While we may not think of addiction in this way, the behaviors that addicts engage in and the consequences that occur as a result of these behaviors are part of a larger pattern of behaviors that comprise the cycle of addiction–and ultimately recovery if the addict chooses to get treatment.
The following is one representation of the phases of addiction and recovery that is often referred to as the Jellinek Curve. These five distinct phases trace the progression of drug and alcohol addiction from occasional and recreational use through to chronic abuse and onward to rehabilitation and recovery. It is very important to note these stages do not have strict timelines in regards to when people transition from one phase to another. In its truest sense, these phases of addiction and recovery can give you a visual representation of what can occur for some people in their struggles with substance abuse.
The Five Phases of Addiction and Recovery
In this beginning phase, someone may start using drugs and/or alcohol on a recreational basis due to curiosity or as a means to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Eventually, a person will start building a tolerance to substances and will start to take more of a substance or substances in order to feel the same effect they experiences when they first starting using drugs and/or alcohol. During this initial phase of addiction and recovery, an individual may start feeling a sense of guilt about their drinking and/or drug use and the first signs of drug dependence start to surface.
In the crucial phase of addiction and recovery, the individual’s drinking and/or drug use has steadily increased and it starting to reach the point where their ability to moderate or stop use completely is diminishing. They may have already made attempts to control their substance use, but those measures were short-lived. The individual is starting to isolate themselves from family and friends and they will rationalize or provide excuses for why they are drinking and/or drugging. It is during this phase that the addict starts to engage in impulsive and reckless behavior on a more frequent basis. Additionally, the crucial phase is when an individual begins to feel a continual sense of remorse and regret regarding their substance use, but may not have the tools to address this burgeoning problem.
When the individual reaches the chronic phase of addiction and recovery, they are more than likely experiencing lengthy periods of intoxication and are also experiencing significant physical and psychological health issues. The person who is in the crucial stage has abandoned family and friends and is spending the majority of their time with those who indulge in drug and alcohol abuse. Their daily routine is driven by substance use and they have little or no motivation to stop. As in the crucial phase of addiction and recovery, people who are in the critical phase may have initiated attempts at getting clean and sober but were unsuccessful in those attempts. In this phase, the individual’s drinking and drug use continues in vicious cycles–and the physical, psychological and spiritual consequences of their behaviors grow worse and can possibly lead to death.
For those addicts who have hit the proverbial dead end in their addiction, they may experience a moment of clarity and engage in a period of intense self-examination. If they come to the full and candid realization their addiction has overtaken their life and they completely desire to transform their life, they will enter a rehabilitation phase where they make the commitment to seek the professional help that is offered by a reputable drug and alcohol rehab facility. During their stay in treatment, they come to an understanding that addiction is a complex and progressive disorder and will receive assistance in helping address and overcome their particular substance abuse issues. In addition to intensive and structured drug treatment, the addict becomes involved in 12-Step or other sober support groups and is exposed to other resources that will help them maintain their sobriety once treatment ends.
In this final phase of addiction and recovery, people new in recovery utilize the tools and support they have received in treatment and from their peers in order to grow in their sobriety. By re-establishing healthy communication with family and friends and through the establishment of new and healthy friendships with those who support their newfound recovery, those in the recovery phase adopt a healthier and happier lifestyle. Their confidence and self-esteem returns, and through their continued working of their individual plan of recovery, those new in recovery grow more confident in their new identity and adopt a mindset where they are aware of the needs and feelings of others. As they grow in their sobriety, those who are in recovery embrace the limitless possibilities before them.