What to Expect in Recovery from Rehabs

What to Expect in Recovery from Rehabs


Rehabs - You are not alone



What is addiction and how can Rehabs help?


Addiction is ravaging our society, killing thousands of innocent people – our brothers, sisters, parents, friends – the problem no longer affects ‘them’ but it is affecting ‘us’! Addiction is a destructive disease that no only affects the addict themselves, but their family and loved ones. This article will give you all you need to know about what to expect in recovery at rehabs.



Rehabs have made progress over the past few years as addiction has been increasingly accepted as a disease, rather than simply a moral failing and many rehabs make use of the bio-psycho-social model, that addresses the various aspects of addiction. Rehabs recognize that addiction is not like other illnesses. When people develop diseases such as cancer or diabetes, they typically acknowledge that they’re sick, go to a doctor and seek medical assistance and treatment.



Whilst rehabs are the treatment for addiction, the very essence of the disease of addiction often prevents the addict from accepting the care and treatment they require. Denial about the problem and the addiction itself often present challenges to getting a loved one into rehabs and serves to protect the addicts themselves from acknowledging that they require treatment.



At rehabs, clinical professionals are often asked the question: Why don’t they just stop?



There is no simple answer to this question as addiction is a bewildering disease, as most struggle to identify what is ‘broken’ or not working with the addict. Rehabs work with the fact that addicts are typically completely aware of the choices they’re making and they may know that they love their family, yet their family feels hurt and betrayed by their actions. They may know that they are losing their job, running out of money, and are left with fewer and fewer prospects in life, yet they cannot seem to stop.



The treatment models used in rehabs and recovery address in detail the addicts free will to chose to use their drug of choice just as they would chose what to wear in the morning, that although it is a disease and an illness, the difference is the freedom they have to chose to stop using! A decision that rehabs, families and friends are unable to make for the addict.



Rehabs are effective in treating and dealing with addiction, despite the fact that there is no official ‘cure’ for addiction. At best, rehabs work towards equipping the individual to manage their illness as they would any other lifelong chronic condition. But the fact that it CAN be managed, and often is, is the hope that rehabs offer.



Far more treatment options are available now, including, rehabs, psychotherapy, prescription medication, and support groups. Rehabs provide a safe and containing environment to allow the addict to process and understand their illness whilst providing an opportunity for them to connect with to others who have endure similar difficulties and work towards putting their addiction behind them for good. While rehabs can’t magically cure addiction, they can make it less bewildering.



What to Expect in Early Recovery after leaving Rehabs


Although there is no official definition of early recovery, most professionals consider it to include the first year after someone becomes clean and sober. Many people are surprised to find out that it is a full year, however, according to rehabs an addict is still in early recovery during their first year. A good way to understand this is: addictions don’t develop in a day, and similarly, recovery doesn’t happen that quickly either. Rehabs work from the mindset that it takes a lot of time and effort to go through treatment and remain in recovery. The big mistake people often make with early recovery – both addicts and their families – is to expect too much too soon.



Rehab - Clouds in pink Sky




The Pink Cloud


After rehabs, and various treatments, addicts often feel a temporary rush of relief once the heavy alcohol or drug use starts to wear off. Sometimes the recovery process doesn’t initially seem as bad as they feared or imagined it would be. This frequently happens in rehabs and lead to what is referred to as “the pink cloud” or the false sense of “I’ve got this”. This overconfidence can cause them to miss meetings and treatments and expose themselves to situations full of temptations, which often results in relapse.



A typical mistake is that families often assume that once their loved one returns from rehabs that they’ll be ‘well’ and everything will go back to normal. These expectations may be too high and can put a great deal of stress on addicts and undermine their recovery.



The Brain on and off Drugs


The brain has the ability to heal itself, which often starts with detox and rehabs; however, it is a gradual process that takes time. Once the addict gets past the initial symptoms of withdrawal, the brain may begin to repair itself and it generally takes about 3 months for the prefrontal cortex to begin to return to something like it’s normal state. Until then, the ability to make ration decisions is still unnaturally weighted towards using substances.



Rehab - Brain in mans head


Healing in the pleasure-centre part of the brain takes even longer. While addicts generally get back their decision-making faculties after approximately 3 months, the emotional impulses to use remain strong. The typical symptoms of this include: anxiety, irritability, mood swings, tiredness, depression,
and inability to concentrate and sleep problems.



Re-learning EVERYTHING


Rehabs treat people who have been addicted to a variety of different substance, but the fundamentals remain the same, regardless of the client’s drug of choice. Many addicts use drugs to self-medicate in an attempt to help them feel like they can cope with daily life and go on. Therefore, when addicts go into rehabs, it’s like a person having to learn all over again how to handle every aspect of their life in a different way.



Some people have compared this process in rehabs to a right-handed person having to learn how to do everything with their left hand. Although this is possible, it takes time, practice and above all patience. Rehabs determine success for an addict in recovery as staying clean and sober, which requires the individual’s entire focus of life in early recovery to be on staying that way. It is not just the top priority; it’s the ONLY PRIORITY!



What it’s like for families



Rehabs do a lot of family interventions in order to help support the addict’s loved ones, help them to understand addiction as well as to assist them in setting and maintaining clear boundaries. After the addict has been in rehabs and returns home, the early stages of recovery can be extremely difficult for family members as they often experience them as acting selfishly, putting their own needs above those of others and focusing all of their attention on substance use. Essentially, during early recovery, this is all still true in that addicts have to focus exclusively on themselves, and on their own needs to stay away from relapsing into old addictive behaviour.



Families often feel let down, as they expected and wanted to get back the person they used to know and instead they may be living with someone who is moody, depressed, irritable, and self-absorbed and likely unable to take on full responsibility for themselves as they had previously. It takes time for the addict to process living without addictive substances and the person requires time to get used to this new way of living and to develop a sense of mastery of the skills of being clean and sober. It’s important to remember that this demands a lot of mental attention and the person may therefore not have the capacity to focus on or provide attention to the needs of those around them.



The problem for family members during the early days of recovery is that they may expect the addict to return home and apologize, taking full responsibility for all the hurt, pain and anger that they caused. Similarly, the family members may still be feeling all of these emotions, that don’t simply vanish when addicts attend rehabs. They tend to think that the addict will at last pay attention to them and make it up to them, however, paying attention to the emotional needs of others is a skill that most addicts will regain slowly over time.



Rehabs therefore assist families in managing their expectations regarding the homecoming of their loved one and how best to proceed in taking care of themselves during the addict’s early recovery. Rehabs place emphasis on the setting and maintenance of clear, healthy boundaries that will allow the addict in recovery as well as their loved ones to navigate early recovery with a little more ease.



Aftercare Planning – after Rehabs


Addicts in recovery still require ongoing support, and most rehabs will assist addicts with some sort of aftercare planning, such as:

• Therapy

• Drug treatments

• Support groups

• Meetings

• Recovery coach/ sponsor



Adhering to the aftercare plan is crucial during this period, given that the addict’s brain is still recovering, and they may therefore be in a fragile state. Some aftercare plans include drug or alcohol testing, to ensure that the addict is staying clean and sober and to catch any relapses before they spiral out of control. This allows for a sense of accountability and can be a valuable tool to regain the trust of loved ones.



Rehabs provide a containing, safe space that allows addicts to explore and process their pasts, understand their addiction as well as the damages that resulted from their active addiction and finally to forge a path towards recovery. Looking back, many can acknowledge hat their lives during active addiction was less than ideal and that their substance abuse was a desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of loss of connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. Rehabs and recovery therefore focus on unearthing where their deep emotional pain originates from, why it is there and how they could address it and process it in a healthy way so as to avoid futile attempts at self-medicating.



Addiction temporarily ‘solved’ the addicts’ problems by taking away their feelings of depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, but the fact that the addict has finally succeeded in stopping the use of substances doesn’t mean that the underlying feelings have gone away. Discovering exactly what drove that individual to take drugs in the first place is a good place to start. People who feel good about themselves tend to avoid doing things that would put their mental, physical and emotional well-being at risk. Rehabs focus on questions such as;


– “What did drugs offer you?

– “What did you like about taking drugs?”

– “What did it give you (in the short-term) that you craved or liked so much?”


Rehabs process and address these underlying emotions that lurk beneath the surface of addiction, encouraging the clients to explore and become more curious about their internal world, in order to show them that only they can set themselves free. We are therefore left with the question of not “Why the addiction?”, but “Why the PAIN?”



Rehabs - man walking on path


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