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10 Keys to Success in Recovery

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Greeting the sunAccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are more than 13,000 specialized drug addiction treatment facilities in the United States.[1] Each day, people enter these facilities with the hope of leaving their addictions behind and moving forward into a life that is healthy, productive and fulfilling.

While researchers do their part to come up with new therapies and new treatment approaches for addiction, and doctors do their part to provide the proper care at the proper time, there are some things that addicted people can do to ensure that they have the best possible chance of success in their addiction treatment programs. This article outlines 10 such steps.

1. Obtain Treatment for Withdrawal

A formal drug detoxification program may be the best way to prepare the mind and the body for the hard work of drug rehabilitation.

Drugs often cause persistent changes in the way the brain functions. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to having almost constant access to the drugs, and when those drugs are removed, the brain interprets this absence with alarm and it may send out distress calls for more drugs. While some withdrawal symptoms are merely unpleasant, others can be so intense and so long lasting that they can drive an addicted person back into substance use and abuse. Many people who try to withdraw from drugs on their own terminate the detox process early due to these cravings, or they enter their rehab programs exhausted and worried, due to the detox process they’ve undergone on their own.

By contrast, people who obtain care for their withdrawal symptoms in a formal detox program are often able to overcome their cravings, and as a result, they’re able to enter their rehabilitation programs with an open mind and a reduced level of stress.

Medications can severely reduce side effects, and therapy provided in detox can help a person work through the emotions that may come up during detox.

2. Treat the Whole Person

Addictions and life stresses can go hand in hand. For example, according to a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health, there is a definitive link between unemployment and increased alcohol consumption and binge drinking.[2] But unemployment isn’t the only condition linked to addiction. Other triggers may include:

  • Witnessing violence
  • Enduring trauma
  • Poverty
  • Lack of social skills
  • Poor parenting skills
  • Low levels of education

These conditions may persist long after the addiction has been addressed, and they could cause an increased level of stress that could make a relapse more likely. For this reason, addiction treatment programs often provide training or referrals to community resources to help addicts deal with these issues in recovery. Addicts can do their part by ensuring the treatment program they choose offers this sort of assistance.

3. Provide Feedback on Treatment Options

Patient giving feedback to counselorDuring addiction treatment programs, addicts learn a significant amount of information in a short period of time, and the skills they develop should grow with each passing day. To ensure this happens, treatment plans should also change and grow over time to meet the addict’s changing needs. Many addiction treatment programs provide this periodic review, but they rely upon the addict in recovery to stay engaged in treatment and offer feedback about what components of care seem to be working, and what components might be best revised or eliminated altogether. Keeping the lines of communication open with therapists and case managers gives people in recovery a more customized level of care.

4. Commit to Learning

Focusing on the consequences of drug use may not be as helpful as focusing on the chemical changes addiction can cause and learning how to live with those changes. Education on addiction can provide important lessons like this that could make sobriety more likely.

Addiction treatment programs may be brief, lasting just a few months. The person with the addiction, on the other hand, will need to control that addiction for the rest of life. It’s a chronic condition, and it pays to learn how the condition develops, how symptoms manifest and how it can best be treated.

The answers can be surprising. For example, according to an article published in the journal Brain Research Reviews, the brain changes caused by addiction can cause cravings for drugs that persist even when the person doesn’t “like” the drugs or knows that drug use can cause the loss of one’s home, job or family.[3] Knowing that addiction can be this strong, on a chemical level, could cause a person in recovery to amend his behaviors.

5. Work on Therapy

Addiction rehabilitation often provides people with a significant amount of therapy time. Here, they talk with a therapist about the addiction, and they’re provided with tools they can use to control those addictions. Therapy may be tremendously helpful, but the sessions last for only an hour or two. In order to get the most out of therapy, it’s best to consider therapy a 24/7 prospect.

Lessons learned in therapy can be augmented with homework assignments, such as additional reading or journal writing. People who take these lessons seriously, and do the hard work of therapy, may see better results than people who only do the minimal amount needed to get by. Addicts can do even more by discussing their lessons with their friends and family members, and they can try to put the skills they’re learning to use right away. The more therapy is thought about, practiced and put into use, the better the outcome will be.

6. Stay in Treatment

It’s common for people in addiction recovery to consider terminating their therapy programs when they begin to see improvement. They may believe that they no longer need therapy or that they can put their lessons into place without discussing them with a therapist or a support group. Unfortunately, this can be a disastrous decision.

Addiction can be difficult to beat without help, and staying in treatment for an adequate period of time is considered crucial to long-term success. The NIDA reports that most people need to stay in treatment for at least three months, but some people may need to stay enrolled in therapy for an even longer period of time.1 Those in treatment for addiction should discuss their long-range plans with their counselors at length, and stay in treatment until those counselors believe that the therapy goals have been met.

7. Build Support System Within Family

Young family huggingAn addict often relies upon the family for long-term support in the middle stages of addiction recovery. The family can help motivate the person to stay involved in treatment, and they can also provide a safe living environment after in-patient treatment. A home that is free of temptation can be a refuge for a person who deals with addiction temptations at work or at school. But in order to provide that support, the family must also learn about addiction and how it is best treated. Family members will need to know what to do, and what not to do, to help the person they love. In addition, some families will need assistance in order to overcome hostilities and dysfunction that have developed as a result of the addiction. Family therapy programs may be able to provide that assistance and help families heal. It is important that the family is committed to being an active part of the addict’s treatment program.

8. Use Support Groups

Most addiction programs provide access to support groups. Typically, these support groups follow a 12-Step model made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous. It might be difficult for people in recovery to see the benefit of participating in a support group like this, but according to an article published in the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America, support groups have a unique role to play in drug rehab programs. The authors write: “They are not treatment, and they do not compete with any form of addiction treatment. Rather, 12-Step programs are spiritually based fellowships supporting not only the achievement and maintenance of abstinence from alcohol and other drug use but also lifelong character development.”[4] By participating in support groups, addicts may tap into a resource that can stay with them throughout life, providing fellowship, support and real recovery tools. It’s an important part of the rehabilitation process.

9. Know That Abstinence Is Key

Addiction is a chronic condition, similar to diabetes or heart disease. The addiction can be treated and controlled, but it can never be cured. As a result, there will never come a time when a person in recovery from an addiction can return to casual use of drugs. Even when the person has been abstinent for months or even for years, the addiction is still in place. A tiny hit of drugs, even if the person expects to take that hit only once, could trigger a relapse to outright addiction. Abstinence is the best way to control and addiction, and a person in recovery must take that lesson to heart.

10. Create a Relapse-Prevention Plan

Since addiction can only be controlled, not cured, a relapse to drug use might be possible. It might even be likely. In order to succeed in long-term abstinence, it’s best to create a robust relapse-prevention plan. At the end of therapy, the person is likely to understand the situations that can cause a relapse, and may even know what feelings tend to make a relapse more likely. When these situations or feelings occur, the person can:

  • Attend an emergency support group meeting
  • Schedule a touchup session with an addiction counselor
  • Call another addict in recovery for individual support
  • Reenter an addiction treatment facility

Having a plan in place helps the person to identify those moments and handle them before they develop into a return to addiction. Before the formal drug rehab program is over, the person should work closely with a therapist to develop such a relapse-prevention plan.

The Important First Step

At Michael’s House, we provide inpatient care for drug and alcohol addiction. We also provide detoxification services to help you start the process on the right foot. While following all of the tips above can help you get the most out of rehab, choosing the right facility might be the most important step you can take to ensure your success. We’d like to help you determine if Michael’s House is the right place for your recovery journey to begin. Please call us today to find out more about our programs and how we can help you.


[1] “Drug Addiction Treatment in the U.S.” NIDA. December 2012.

[2] Iona Popovici and Michael T. French. “Does Unemployment Lead to Greater Alcohol Consumption?” NCBI. March 2013.

[3] Terry E. Robinson and Kent C. Berridge. “The Neural Basis of Drug Craving: An Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction.” Brain Research Review. December 1993.

[4] John Chappel, MD, and Robert L. DuPont, MD. “Psychiatric Twelve Step and Mutual-Help Programs for Addictive Disorders.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America. June 1999.