It is possible to recover from substance use disorders

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People who are recovering from substance abuse disorders are often told that they will be "in recovery" for the rest of their lives. This is false. It is possible to completely recover and no longer feel the need to return to substance abuse.

Recovery is all about attitude. Nearly every successful substance abuse recovery system has one factor in common with all others: It will emphasize a positive attitude. An attitude of "I can win!" is a key component to substance use disorder recovery.

Once a person adopts this attitude, dropping the addiction becomes merely a matter of time. Smokers can quit, heroin shooters can stop, and alcohol drinkers can drop the bottle. Sure there will be work involved to keep yourself clean. After a while, though, avoiding the substance becomes second nature. At this point, you have recovered – you are done. No more "in recovery" statements.

Recovery in the Real World

Here are three real-world anecdotes that demonstrate that complete recovery is possible.

  1. First, my own. I smoked tobacco for years. I started when I was a teenager and smoked occasionally until I was about 22, and then I smoked regularly until I was 27. A pack a day, every day. After several attempts, I found the motivation and desire to quit and did so. A few years later, I began smoking cigars socially and sometimes alone to relax while watching the night sky or while on a long drive. I would often smoke for several days in a row and then not smoke for weeks before doing so again. At this point, I knew I had recovered from my earlier addiction and could now enjoy things in moderation. I am not a nicotine addict.
  2. Another example is a friend, Sandy, who was a heroin addict. She would inject it between her toes and in her armpits to hide the needle scars, and she used almost daily. Her life got to the point where all she did was look for her next fix. She was arrested and put into a rehab program, but she started using again as soon as she was released. After two years as an addict, she was given some bad stuff that caused her heart to stop. Sandy awoke in the hospital on life support and vowed to quit using. After several weeks of rehab and months of friendship therapy, she no longer had the craving to get a fix. Now, years later, she occasionally smokes marijuana with friends to relax and does not crave heroine at all. She is recovered.
  3. Finally, an example is Nathan, who left the Marine Corps after three tours in Iraq. He has several mental illnesses related to his time in the military and the things he saw and did. At first he refused to acknowledge that a Marine could have mental issues from PTSD , so he self-medicated with alcohol and then prescription drugs. He became addicted to several narcotics, all of which were legal by prescription and relatively easy to get in one way or another. He abused these for more than three years, drifting from job to job because he'd eventually show up blasted from the pills and get fired. When Nathan finally acknowledged his addiction, he entered a VA-sponsored rehabilitation program, cleaned up and started mental health services for his core problems. He has no desire to use prescriptions or to drink, but can take the pills, as prescribed by his doctor, and have an occasional beer with friends without feeling the need to go further. He's recovered.

All in the Attitude

Recovery is entirely possible. It's all in how you define "recovery." If you believe that you will "always be an addict," then you will always have a substance use disorder. If you believe that you can overcome it, though, you will.


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