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Addiction is a disease that affects not just the addicted person, but the family as well. Because each person has a different view point and thought process, addictions are viewed differently by each person. If someone with an addiction can muster the strength to realize the damage their addiction has caused to themselves and their loved ones, they can begin the journey of recovery. There are many layers to dive into when recovering from an addiction. Many ask, “Why does an addict use? Why can’t he/she just quit?” The road to recovery is not easy. It requires the addicted person to acknowledge things that he or she may be trying to ignore or push away. Many family members are not sure how to best help their addicted loved one. Here are some helpful tips for the road to recovery.

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Starting the Journey

Research by the psychologist Jeremy Dean suggests it takes twenty-one days to form a simple habit, such as drinking a glass of water with breakfast, but it takes longer to form more demanding habits. So, when we look at recovering from addiction, it’s going to be far more challenging than learning to hydrate and will naturally require perseverance across an extended period of months. An addict must abstain from the addictive substance or behavior for at least ninety days for recovery to be fruitful and for new habits to take root. To be clear, this is different than saying it takes 90 days to break free from addiction; rather, it takes at least that many days in successful abstinence without relapses. For this to happen, the person who wants to overcome their addiction needs a stable environment to lay the foundation for the start of recovery. Most importantly for recovery to begin, the person suffering with the addiction must wantto abstain and break free from the addictive cycle. Until then, making the addict go through the motions of the recovery process may not be helpful. Addicts must honestly embrace themselves, shortcomings and all, in order to start the journey to recovery. Joining a 12-step group can be quite helpful at this stage in recovery. In a group setting, the addict can share their struggle with others who understand their journey and thereby receive essential support.

The journey of addicts involves the acknowledgment of what keeps them turning back to their addiction, as well as their own denial or rationalization of the addiction. How the addict handles conflict, stressors, and comments from others all play a role in the addiction cycle and recovery process. Along the road to recovery, the addictive thinker must learn to challenge their own cognitive distortions as well as deal with their own guilt and shame.

Part of the journey to recovery will be dealing with emotions that the addicted person is not accustomed to experiencing or feelings he or she usually suppresses with the addiction. These feelings may include shame or guilt that ultimately reinforce their negative and distorted thinking. Again, it is important for the addicted person to work on the issues that can trigger the substance use and the feelings that occur before, during, and after the addictive action. As unpleasant as it is to admit faults, it is important to acknowledge shortcomings during recovery. Typically, people who struggle with addiction expect to be rejected. This causes them to start building walls that separate them from everyone else, leading to profound loneliness. Another challenge for people struggling with addiction is lack of spirituality. Distorted thinking and the desire to maintain the addiction can be major obstacles for developing a spiritual life. Embracing spirituality can be an  additional source of strength for those struggling with addiction. Prayer can be a huge support for the addict and the family in this area.

Speed Bumps on the Journey

The road to recovery will inevitably be filled with ups and downs. Progress can be hindered by the addictive thinking process. Addicts can be taken in by their own thinking, usually deceiving themselves from reality. The thinking process of an addict is characterized by superficial logic and can be seductive and misleading. Family and friends can argue against this thinking process all day, but the influence of addiction is powerful. The need for the chemical is so compelling that it directs the person’s thoughts solely toward continuing the chemical use, ignoring all other rationality. It is noted that people functioning at the highest intellectual levels have more intense degrees of addictive thinking. The feeling of lack of achievement in life is a common trigger for addiction. The drinking or drug use is used as a tool for consolation but only serves to mask the real issue. The addiction continues as a way to cope with negative thoughts and feelings. Low self-esteem is also associated with addictive thinking and co-dependency. Some will continue to look for excuses to keep using. The chemical use usually causes the problems, but the addict will say that the problems cause the chemical use.

Patience for the Journey

Taking recovery one day at a time is usually the easiest way for addicts to deal with their addiction and makes the process feel more achievable. Time will play an important role in the healing process. It is important to exercise caution in the beginning. Much time must pass and much work must be done in order for the addict to overcome maladaptive behavior patterns. A few days or even months of sobriety may convince the person struggling with addiction that the work is over; this is unfortunately not the case. Recovery is an ongoing journey, and people fighting an addiction must remember to be brutally honest with themselves and others who are involved in their recovery.

Distorted or irrational thoughts will continue to arise as the person progresses in his or her journey to recovery. Relapsing doesn’t mean starting over from square one; it just means that the addict is still human. However, the addict must be able to return to the road to recovery in order to see growth. Feeling frustrated doesn’t have to lead to relapse. Part of recovery involves learning to cope effectively with the normal stresses and struggles of life. Those in recovery must remember to pray, call their sponsor, attend meetings, share with others, and follow recommendations given to them by mental health professionals and doctors.

For the Family

Family and friends can make use of support groups like Al-Anon to discover other ideas about how to cope with a family member’s addiction as well as find support for themselves during this trying time. It is important to be patient with the person suffering with the addiction and to continue to practice self-care. See our previous blog post on leading a balanced life for self-care tools.One helpful rule from Al-Anon groups is the Three C’s: you did not cause it, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it. It is important for the family and friends of an addict to remember that they can’t control their loved one’s addiction or cure them. They can be a source of support by being present for the addict and not enabling the addiction. Family and friends need to continue to remind themselves that the addiction is prohibiting their loved one from making healthy decisions on his or her own behalf, but they cannot put that responsibility on themselves. When the person struggling with addiction is able to face reality, form sound values and principles as grounds for making choices, and develop a healthy and undistorted self-concept, he or she can make healthy decisions. In the meantime, family members can seek therapy to help them through this difficult time. Check out this website to find an Al-Anon group near you.

If you need assistance in using your spirituality as a strength, consider visiting for more information about parishes near you and services. You can also download the app Laudate (available for Apple and Android) for daily prayers.

For more information on this topic, check out the book Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception by Abraham J. Twerski, one of the many resources available on the topic of addiction.