3 MIN READ | Clinical Psychology

Choosing Sobriety: Steps for Addiction Recovery

Dennis Relojo-Howell

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The world has seen a consistent upward trend in the number of deaths related to substance abuse over the past two decades. It’s an issue affecting over half of the world population. There also has been a rapid global increase in the accessibility of drugs and alcohol. These trends have made it more difficult in recent years for someone suffering from addiction to stay sober.

Addiction is both a physical dependency and a psychological disease. The decision to leave substance abuse behind is not easy. Often, it can be a matter of life or death. Everyone with an addiction has a unique journey toward sobriety. However, there are standard milestones and guidelines to the process that can aid anyone in their recovery.

Ditch the denial

Acknowledgement of the addiction is the first step in recovering from substance abuse. Denial exists as a powerful force in an addict’s life. Overcoming this mindset allows them to accept the reality of their addiction and the need for recovery.


The DSM-5 defines addiction as being present when a person meets at least three of the following criteria:

  • An inability to regulate substance use, including the amount, length, and frequency of use
  • An inability to cut down or stop the use of the substance
  • The presence of cravings or urges for the substance and withdrawal symptoms if use stops
  • Spending large amounts of time pursuing the use of the substance, including acquiring, using, or recovering from the substance
  • Jeopardising relationships, and responsibilities at home, work or school because of substance use
  • Allowing substance use to take precedence over social, recreational, or occupational activities
  • The continual use of substances despite physical or mental health problems or other consequences
  • Acquiring a tolerance for a substance which requires use at an increased dosage to get the desired effect

Once a person identifies the problem, they can overcome abuse and addiction using resources available in most communities. As well, they can seek the support of family, friends, medical professionals, and counsellors. Those who have or are in the process of recovering from addiction themselves may also be of help.

Cleanse and purge

The next step toward sobriety is to detoxify a user’s system. The detox-and-withdrawal process is one of the hardest steps in recovery. The side effects vary depending on the type of addiction. However, the side effects of withdrawal often are painful, uncomfortable, and unpleasant to experience.

It’s best to handle this stage of the process with the support of medical professionals. Trained medical staff can manage and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Some of the tools they use can be medication, total withdrawal support, or in some cases, electronic devices. These tools can help to alleviate the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Staying sober with support

Rehab centresA few different styles of rehabilitation centres are available for those in recovery. Some facilities specialise in short-term residential detox visits. Other longer-term options include therapeutic communities where addicts receive ongoing support with sober living. Recovery housing offers long-term support and aid from live-in professionals. It can be a beneficial tool for many in their ongoing recovery as well.

Medication – Medications can aid in the detox process. They can also be useful for recovery. Medications can be especially helpful for keeping cravings and urges for a substance at bay. However, medication should never be solely relied on in a patient’s ongoing recovery. They should be used alongside therapeutic practices, such as counseling and psychiatry.

Individual and group talk therapy From NA to AA, there is an alphabet soup’s worth of support groups. These groups meet to help people from all walks of life in their recovery. These groups are available both in person or online, making them accessible to most.

Meeting in a group setting can help those in recovery from relapsing. Recovery can often lead to isolation or lack of motivation. Group counselling addresses the emotional and mental health aspects of recovery. The groups focus on an ongoing educational aspect as well. They help members connect and learn from each other. They teach how to use those same skills to rebuild relationships and trust with family, friends, and employers.


Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today. 


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