I Want to Get On With My Life. Why Does Treatment Take So Long?

Who wouldn’t want to put the enslaving misery of addiction behind them as quickly as possible? The question,”Why does treatment take so long?” is also an understandable reaction to the amount of time wasted by addiction. But this urgency may blind you to what is required to initiate and sustain recovery and prevent relapse. In your hurry you may miss something important that later comes back to hurt you.

Getting on with your life and treatment are not in conflict. In fact, treatment is very much about getting on with your life because it addresses those things that are likely to make doing so difficult, if not impossible. To be able to “get on with life” you have first to ensure you have a life to get on with. Recovery-initiating treatment is focussed on that very goal. It is surely worth investing whatever it takes to increase the chances of success. Critically, that includes time.

Some perspective is needed. Most people seeking treatment will have been consumed with addiction for years. Over that time it will have established itself as the organising dynamic of life. You will have adapted to its increasingly exclusive demands. It will have affected your thought processes, attitudes, beliefs, emotional reactions, relationships, behaviours, choices and decisions. Many of these will not have been in your best interests. If insufficient attention is paid to those addiction-aligned factors in adapting to a new way of life, they may well have a powerfully negative say on the course of your recovery.

Research tells us that the brain will likely take at least three months to return to something like pre-addiction health where irreversible damage has not occurred. In many cases it takes longer. Other evidence suggests that achieving at least five years of recovery is needed to build the degree of resilience required to cope with the range of stressors that could trigger relapse. That doesn’t mean undergoing five years of treatment but it means sufficient treatment at the most vulnerable time in order to build the essential foundations for securing recovery in the long term.

The pre-disposition to addiction will have developed unconsciously, meaning that you will probably be unaware of quite how vulnerable you are; something treatment helps you identify and address. To expect this underlying susceptibility, developed over years, to evaporate in a few short days or weeks is wholly unrealistic. It is why we tend not to use the word ‘cure’. That word has an unhelpful finality to it that contrasts with what the process of recovery actually involves. And treatment is not the whole answer. It is only the starting point of a change in your approach to life.

One thing of which to be particularly wary is the post-withdrawal lift; sometimes called the “honeymoon period” or “the pink cloud”. The completion of this critical process, which may include medical detox, will, generally, leave a person feeling much better. For that reason alone you may be eager to convince yourself that you have shaken off addiction and are ready for whatever life holds. But addiction is not limited to physical intoxication or the compulsive repetition of mood-altering behaviours. That’s only part of the picture.

Impulses, attitudes and thought processes characteristic of addiction tend to linger well beyond withdrawal from addictive drugs and behaviours; often undermining, even directly sabotaging, approaches to treatment and early recovery. For instance, central to addiction is the attraction to the “quick fix”, the short cut, the easy solution, the avoidance of discomfort, the gain without pain and the pressing urge to be “somewhere else” emotionally and to escape from difficult realities. To secure recovery: be prepared for the opposite.

So, let’s change the question to: “I want to get on with my life. What do I need to do in this stage of the recovery process to improve my chances of being able to do so?”

Clinically Reviewed By


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