Published On: March 1, 2017|Categories: Recovery|

You don’t get over an addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier not to use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.” Anonymous

In other words, abstinence is the removal of something negative from your life. Recovery is the removal of something negative and the consequential replacing of that negativity with a positive lifestyle change instead.

Overcoming substance use addictions 

For many who wish to stop relying on addictive substances, there is a tendency to believe that all it takes is flushing the drugs down the toilet or emptying the bottles of alcohol down the drain.

Believe us, we wish it was that easy, too. 

Unfortunately, there is an entire lifestyle that builds up around addiction. The people who you spend your time with, the places you frequent and the choices you make, from financial decisions to career choices, are determined by the addiction, whether or not you realize it or want it. “Under the influence” becomes so much more than just the impact of the chemicals in your brain – it becomes the whole definition of life. 

Because of this, recovery is crucial. 

We’re not trying to bash abstinence, because there is absolutely a time and a place for abstaining from certain things at certain times. When it comes to substance abuse, however, abstaining from drugs and alcohol is only the first step. Because addiction means living your life under the influence of substances, recovery means shedding that old lifestyle and adopting an entirely new one. 

Recovery vs. abstinence 

While abstinence is beneficial, recovery takes the removal of drugs and alcohol from one’s life a step further. 

For example: 

  • Recovery is a lifelong process of choosing this alternative healthy lifestyle, whereas abstinence is not necessarily lifelong, but more often only temporary;
  • Recovery’s intention is to learn strategies that will help you long-term improve your mental and physical health, whereas abstinence will only lesson symptoms of substance use disorder while you’re abstaining;
  • Recovery treats both the addiction and any co-occurring mental health conditions, whereas abstinence doesn’t dive into the root cause of the substance use disorder – this makes relapse from abstinence more risky than relapse from a recovery lifestyle;
  • While abstaining, you focus on abstaining; with recovery, you don’t focus as much on steering clear of drugs and alcohol as you do on the new lifestyle changes you’re making to replace old bad habits;
  • Abstinence looks the same for everyone, whereas recovery is unique to each person based on their treatment goals, personal history and individual experiences. 

Does this mean abstinence is bad? Absolutely not. All it means is that abstinence is not necessarily a long-term suitable choice if your ultimate goal is freedom from a lifestyle of addiction.

Abstinence is a stepping stone 

Recovery is a lifelong process that needs to start somewhere. Abstinence may be the crucial first step for you if you are seeking recovery. 

Take detox, for example. Addiction detox flushes all of the toxins from substance use out of your body, eases you through withdrawal symptoms and gives you a healthier body with which to begin the next step. Someone who is detoxed from drugs or alcohol is likely to abstain from substances for a while, but it’s not likely sustainable longterm. 

Why? Because the mental health part of recovery has yet to be addressed. Detox and abstinence doesn’t address the possibility of anxiety or depression as co-occurring disorders, factors that could contribute to a relapse.

Substance use negatively impacts your mental health just as much as your physical health – for this reason, continuing to the next part of the journey through therapy is crucial to moving abstinence into fully sustained recovery. 

If you are seeking total recovery

If you are practicing abstinence, you are absolutely on the right track towards freedom from addiction. However, we encourage you to not stop there. 

While abstinence in the short term can help you realize the dangers of addiction, recovery can help you put that entire lifestyle behind you for the long term. To speak with a mental healthcare professional today about beginning treatment for recovery, contact Rehab After Work at 610-644-6464.

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