Some people who seek recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs believe that merely abstaining from a substance or going through a detoxification program, where the substance is eliminated from the body, is enough to overcome addiction. To understand why it takes more than abstinence and detox in order to recover for most people, it is important to understand the science of addiction and the collective knowledge of treatment professionals accumulated over centuries of working with those addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Most good treatment programs require abstinence from the substance. But abstinence is only the beginning. Statistics reveal that abstinence coupled with detox and the decision to never use again is often not enough to prevent relapse. The latest scientific research on addiction and recovery provides the key to understanding why an effective treatment program is needed after initial detox in order to truly recover from addiction in the long term. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the rational decision to quit or remain abstinent, is literally shut down or at least severely limited when the midbrain produces addictive cravings. The midbrain is primarily responsible for addictive cravings. And it simply doesn’t respond well to the rational mind’s decisions. For many people, there are also underlying issues of trauma, anxiety and self-esteem that lie at the core of addiction. Without proper treatment or therapy, these issues remain unresolved, increasing the likelihood of relapse. Our minds and bodies learn over time how to be addicted. In response to emotional and psychological stress and anxiety, the brain kicks in and sends the signal to use even when there was a prior decision to quit. This activates the midbrain to such an extent that the craving feels very compelling. Once the substance is ingested again, the reward system in the brain is overloaded and the addictive cycle starts up again, quite often progressing to a more severe degree than ever before.

Detoxification merely rids the system of the chemical. Without a proper followup treatment program, the brain remains hard-wired towards addiction, the mind and body stay locked into their learned response of using in the face of triggers, and the rational mind remains dysfunctional.  Time heals. This is the bottom line with recovery. A good recovery program involves at least 90 days of treatment, with varying levels of care (inpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient). Statistics show that a five year plan, including moving into a protected sober living environment at some point and then eventually into some form of group support and ongoing recovery in a 12 step or mindfulness program is the key to success.

A big factor for success in recovery is education. Understanding the key components above can make the difference between success and failure. If you find yourself buying into assumptions like “I can do it alone,” “I have decided never to use again,” or “I can handle recovery without a program,” educate yourself thoroughly. Find out the facts! Follow in the knowledge and footsteps of those who have navigated the territory of addiction and recovery.



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