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How to stick with addiction recovery.
May 1, 2017

Sticking With Recovery – How Perseverance Improves Your Chances of Freedom From Addiction

How to stick with addiction recovery.Addiction experts say sticking with recovery really pays off. Explore how, and get the secret to persevering:

Sticking with recovery—perseverance—can improve your chances of freedom from addiction, according to experts. They can point to a large body of evidence in support of their claim. This article will highlight the pay-offs to working a program of recovery over the long haul. The findings, including what they suggest about the nature of perseverance in recovery and its various components, are eye-opening for anyone with a substance use disorder (SUD) and their loved ones.

How Staying in Treatment Is Better for Your Recovery

What addiction experts now know is that SUDs are very treatable—much in the same way that other chronic diseases can be successfully managed and overcome via a comprehensive plan of care. In the case of addiction, though, recovery prospects are better for people who choose longer treatment programs of 90 days or more. Research summarized by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found staying in treatment for 90 days or more is associated with better recovery outcomes. In fact, less than 90 days of treatment of residential and/or outpatient treatment is “of limited effectiveness,” according to NIDA, which concludes, “research has shown unequivocally that good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length.”

In other words, dropping out of treatment prematurely, however common the temptation, is never a good idea. Staying engaged in treatment over the longer haul of at least 90 days is the widely-accepted recommendation. It’s also one component of perseverance in recovery.

How Long-Term Abstinence Reduces Relapse Risks

Long-term abstinence from drugs or alcohol is another component of perseverance in recovery that is associated with better recovery outcomes. Avoiding a former drug of choice takes daily and sometimes hourly willpower and resolve, but the longer you can do it, the more resilient you become to relapse—or so the studies suggest:

  • Just one year of sobriety significantly cuts relapse risks, and those who make it to five years of sobriety have only a 15 percent chance of relapse, according to a 2007 study in Evaluation Review.
  • Earlier, a 1996 study in the American Medical Association’s former Archives of General Psychiatry (today known as JAMA Psychiatry), turned up similar findings regarding recovering alcoholics. The study followed 724 men (all of them formerly problem drinkers) over a 50-year period, and discovered a dramatic drop in relapse risks between the second and fifth year of abstinence.
  • For heroin addicts in recovery, a similar trend prevails, apparently. A 2005 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry followed a test population over 33 years, finding that over time the percentage of those achieving successful recovery increased while the percentage of those relapsing decreased. The implication? That sticking with some plan of abstinence-based recovery over the long haul is indispensable to your success.

How Self-Motivation to Persevere in Recovery Improves Outcomes

Self-motivation is another component of perseverance, one that clinicians often describe using the term “self-efficacy.” What they are really referring to is the degree to which someone believes in their ability to achieve successful recovery: “the power of believing you can.” Clients with higher levels of self-efficacy are quicker to rebound from relapse and show higher rates of recovery, according to a 2011 study in the journal, Addictive Behaviors.

The same study cited previous research findings suggesting a link between self-efficacy and abstinence by the end of the first year following treatment. Clients with higher levels of self-efficacy were reportedly more likely to achieve one full year of successful abstinence.

How Perseverance in Recovery Leads to Greater Life Satisfaction

Strikingly, those who persevere in their recovery tend to report significantly greater life satisfaction than peers who quit. For example, when they were assessed five years following treatment, recovering opiate users were four times more likely to report greater life fulfillment, in a study cited in the book, Principles of Addiction Medicine, 4th ed.

The neurological dynamics behind how the brain processes incoming stimuli as pleasure and reward may help to explain these findings. Recently, scientists have discovered that the same neurotransmitter that gets activated in the presence of pleasurable activities like eating or having sex is also a key modulator of self-motivation and perseverance. In a 2013 study in the magazine, Neuron, researchers learned that dopamine’s release is actually what motivates a person to “achieve something good or avoid something evil.” In other words, working hard for a particular goal that demands effort and grit correlates with a higher level of dopamine (which also indicates greater contentment).

Key Factors That Support Perseverance in Recovery

Sticking with recovery after treatment is easier with regular 12-step group participation and strong family support, according to a 2007 study in Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. These supportive connections with others are instrumental to staying engaged with a program of recovery that involves long-term changes in lifestyle and a gradual process of change over time.

Those in recovery know well the mantra, “One day at a time.” “One day at a time” over and over again is what makes perseverance. Ultimately, that equation works best when the self-motivation to recover (that crucial belief in one’s ability to succeed) is there, supported by a web of close, loving relationships with friends, family and others in recovery.