Trying to Undo a Lifetime of Substance Abuse?

Trying to Undo a Lifetime of Substance Abuse?

It may seem like a herculean effort to try to undo a lifetime of substance abuse. It’s definitely not an easy process for anyone who’s been under the sway of alcohol and drugs for many years. But if you are among those who find themselves in this situation and truly want to change your lifestyle, there’s good news: You can do it.

Examine Your Motives

Before you can go into this wholeheartedly, it’s important to examine your motives for getting clean. Is it that you really want to ditch drugs and alcohol abuse once and for all and start living a clean and sober life? Or are you trying to detox yourself for a while to see what it’s like to live without substances? For some, it’s been so long that they can’t even remember what it feels like to wake up without being either in withdrawal or itching for a fix. They’ve been coked up, drunk, or stoned out of their mind for far too long to trust most of what they think or believe.

How can you know if your motives are sincere enough to help you withstand the rigors of detoxification and the treatment process? This is really a very personal decision, and only you will be able to determine if you genuinely want to change your life. And make no mistake about it, you do have to make some major changes.

Are you trying to change your behavior to impress someone else or because you’ve been given an ultimatum to clean yourself up or else? Neither of those motives will provide enough staying power for when the times get tough. You need more of a driving force coming from within yourself that motivates you to get clean – and stay that way.

The reason we start with motive is that only you can overcome your addiction. No one else can do it for you. They won’t be going through all the hard work. They won’t be the ones going through withdrawal and trying to learn new and healhier behaviors. Of course, if loved ones go through family treatment while you are in rehab, that’s another story. But it’s still you overcoming your addiction. Family members can – and should – learn about the disease and how they can best support your recovery, but it’s you that goes through the treatment process.

So, if you truly want to change your life by overcoming your addiction – even after years of substance abuse – you’re ready to go on to the next step.

See Your Doctor

The best place to start, especially after years of substance abuse that may have left you with a number of physical conditions brought on or exacerbated by addiction, is with your doctor. Make an appointment and go in for a complete physical exam. You need to have a brutally honest discussion with your physician about your addiction. No sugar coating the details, since that will just cloud the picture. You’re not there to paint an idyllic picture of your life. You’re there to tell it like it is: I’m addicted and I need help to get clean.

Your doctor will likely do a number of tests and will give you a rundown of the results, along with his or her recommendations. If you’re up-front about wanting to kick years of substance abuse, be prepared to answer some pretty probing questions. It’s important to be totally honest with your answers.

Ask for referrals or recommendations to treatment facilities that specialize in rehab for the type of substance abuse or addiction that you have. If you have multiple addictions – such as alcoholism and addiction to OxyContin and cocaine – or substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorder, be explicit about your situation. Tell the doctor what you take, when you take it, and how often you take it.

Research Available Treatment

Those who have been abusing substances for years often have no clue where to start to find treatment. After visiting with your doctor, you should have at least a couple of suggestions, but there are other avenues to find appropriate treatment facilities.

Go on the Internet and do a search of the vast database of treatment facilities that’s maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It’s called the Treatment Facility Locator ( and includes more than 11,000 addiction treatment programs, including residential treatment centers, outpatient treatment programs, and hospital inpatient programs for drug addiction and alcoholism. Listings include treatment programs for cocaine, marijuana, and heroin addiction, as well as drug and alcohol treatment programs for adolescents, adults, seniors, and special groups (those with HIV/AIDS, gays, lesbians, criminal justice populations, and more). You can also contact the toll-free 24-hour confidential Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Once you find several drug addiction treatment centers that specialize in treating your particular type or types of addiction, get further information directly from the facility either by visiting their Web site or by calling them. Be sure to ask all the questions you need, and remember that while most of the facilities listed are capable of treating any substance abuse problem, it’s best to ask – especially if you have a co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder. Few facilities are equipped with the staff or training to handle dual-diagnosis clients.

Go More In-Depth with Investigation

Now, you’ll likely have narrowed the list down to a few treatment facilities, say two to three. Your next step is to gather as much information about each of them so that you can make an intelligent decision as to which one best serves your needs.

If you have insurance, you want to find out whether your coverage will accommodate your stay at the treatment facilities you’re looking at. If you need financial assistance, make sure that the facility offers a “sliding fee scale” or “payment assistance.” Inquire what is included in the cost of the program and what is considered extra. Definitely find out what type of aftercare or continuing care services are part of the overall treatment program.

You may wish to personally visit your short list of treatment facilities. The reason for this is to satisfy yourself that the facility will be able to handle your needs and that you feel confident in the professionalism and track record of the staff.

Enroll in Treatment

After all this legwork, now the hard part begins. You enroll or get admitted to the treatment facility and undergo a comprehensive interview and evaluation. This is similar to what you went through with your family doctor, if you took that initial step, but different in that this is a specialized facility that only deals with treating clients who are trying to overcome their addiction.

Following the interview and evaluation, a personalized treatment program will be created for you. Everything will be explained, including the length of the treatment plan, what, if any, medications will be prescribed (to help minimize discomfort and cravings during detox, for example, or to help with anxiety and depression), and how treatment will progress.

Then, if the facility includes medically-supervised detoxification services, you’ll go through a period where your body safely purges itself of harmful substances. Detox generally doesn’t last that long, but it’s vitally important because no treatment can begin until you are clean.

After detox, active treatment begins. While treatment is tailored to the individual, it generally consists of psychotherapy on an individual and group basis, educational lectures and discussions, various treatment modalities, as well as recreational and leisure activities. Each client is assigned a core treatment team that consists of a primary therapist, family therapist, psychiatrist, medical doctor, nurse and any other appropriate professionals. Most substance abuse treatment programs also include participation in 12-step groups.

Mindset During Treatment Makes a Huge Difference

Once you’re in treatment, you will do yourself an enormous favor by adopting a positive mindset. Treatment is not always going to be pleasant, although there will be many rewarding aspects about it that you will come to appreciate later. And you’ll become acquainted with individuals who can help you discover things about yourself that you didn’t know or talents that you never thought yourself capable of. But treatment isn’t a cake-walk. Don’t expect it to be.

Expect that during treatment you will have good days and bad days – and some in-between. Look at it this way. You’ve spent a lifetime abusing substances. It’s bound to take some time to undo all that damage and put your life back on track. For some, treatment affords them the opportunity to be clean and have a normal life for the first time in decades.
Time will go by very quickly. Before you know it, you will be creating your recovery plan with your therapist and getting ready for discharge. Make the most of your treatment time by learning all you can about how to deal with cravings and urges, how to manage depression, what to do when anxiety strikes, and how to live a healthier lifestyle.

Make it a point to find out what aftercare or continuing care services are available to you, when and where they are held, and any and all specifics about this invaluable care that you can get before you leave the treatment facility.

Home Again – Now Reality Sets In

Whether you were in treatment for 30, 60, 90 days or longer, the time comes when you leave the facility and go home. For long-term addicts, there may be a transition to a sober living home or other facility to assist in the reintegration back into society.

But let’s say you do go home. You have a family that’s there to support and encourage you in your recovery efforts – or you don’t have anyone. Either way, you’re bound to face some intense pressure, anxiety, bouts of depression, uncertainty – and some overwhelming cravings and urges. It’s different for everyone, of course, and coming home is harder for some than for others.

You can help yourself by sticking to your recovery plan, making your daily schedule and going to your 12-step meetings as often as you can. You need to take good physical care of yourself as well, since the ravages of addiction have likely resulted in a lot of accumulated damage. Be sure to eat well-balanced meals, drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself, and get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Don’t forget the value of physical exercise. This is often overlooked as something unneeded, when just the opposite is true. Not only does exercise help you become healthier physically, vigorous physical exercise produces endorphins. And these feel-good chemicals in the brain are nature’s natural pleasure resource that can wipe away depression and give you an emotional boost just when you need it most.

Prepare for Changes

One thing you’ll need to be ready for is a great deal of change. Your life can’t go on like it did before you entered treatment. That means that you’ll need to change your social life, avoid the so-called friends that you used to hang out with and get high, even change where you live or work, if that’s what it takes.

While drastic changes are discouraged during the first year of recovery, that only applies to deliberate change of major life events. You shouldn’t plan to get married or divorced, buy or sell a house, decide to have children, or up and quit your job the first thing when you get out of treatment.

But you do need to change the way you behave, the things you do on a daily basis, how you think about life and what it means to live clean and sober.

And, again, it won’t be easy.

Some days you may dread getting out of bed. Some nights you won’t be able to sleep for the cravings that keep you up. If you’re anxious, depressed, feel a total lack of self-confidence, call your 12-step sponsor, go see your therapist, or ask for the support and encouragment of your loved ones or close friends. Don’t be afraid to say you’re having a rough time. If you do feel the least bit uncomfortable, understand that this, too, is normal. After all, you’ve been living for years under the cloud of substance abuse. It takes time to just figure out what normal is. Give yourself time to adjust.

And you will adjust.

You do need to make new friends, people who are sober and share your desire to live a healthier lifestyle. You can start with your 12-step group members. They have all been in a situation similar to yours, although each person’s story is naturally different. What doesn’t change is that they’re all committed to helping newcomers to recovery. They’ll be invaluable allies as you face crises and opportunities. Listening to their stories and what’s worked for them will give you new insight into how you may be able to adapt their suggestions to your own situation.

What if You Relapse?

The “R” word shouldn’t cause you undue anxiety. The fact is that relapse, while common, doesn’t always happen – not even to those who have been addicted for years. Granted, it may be more likely with some long-term addictions than others, but it’s not automatic.

So, you shouldn’t fear it. Fear is counter-productive, anyway. Recovery experts and 12-step groups like say that relapse should be looked at in a different light. It isn’t a failure if you have a slip. It’s an opportunity to learn what didn’t work and to concentrate instead on the things that do work – and do more of them.

In fact, as long as you learn something from a relapse, you should just get back on track and keep moving forward in recovery. It doesn’t mean you have to start all over again. If, on the other hand, you have a major relapse, don’t get disheartened. Some individuals who had long abused substanves need to go through treatment more than once.
If your heart and mind are in the right place, if you truly want to undo a lifetime of substance abuse, perseverence and determination will help you get there.

Will Others See the New You?

You’re no longer the same individual that walked through the door into treatment. Over the months after you are in recovery and making progress each day, you will start to see for yourself the major changes you’ve made in the way you choose to live. This is, after all, your life. What you create for yourself in the future in terms of goals and dreams begins with what you do today.

Others will begin to notice the changes as well. You will have a light shining from within you that was all-but extinguished before when you were in the depths of addiction. You will have hope where you had none. You will be able to laugh, experience joy, make friends, learn new things, perhaps even love again, or for the first time.

Everyone loves a winner. Going through all the things that you did to overcome your lifetime of substance abuse, you are a winner of the first magnitude. Be proud of what you have accomplished, and keep living in the present, alive and grateful for the gift of life that you have chosen for yourself. A few years from now, when you look back on the long-ago days when you wondered if you had what it takes to undo a lifetime of substance abuse, you will smile and acknowledge that, yes, indeed you did.

Make the choice today. Your life in recovery awaits.

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