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How Long Does It Take to Recover From Addiction?
Recovery Tools from Asana Recovery August 16, 2023
When we talk about “addiction recovery,” there are essentially two separate but interrelated processes involved.
One is biological healing. The other is retraining our addicted thinking.
Biological Healing: Repairing and Replacing Damaged Cells
Biological healing requires repairing or reproducing cells that have been damaged or destroyed by our drug use.
Our bodies are virtually miraculous machines of rejuvenation and self-repair. According to Scientific American, “About 330 billion cells are replaced daily, equivalent to about 1 percent of all our cells. In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.”
When it comes to physical rehabilitation following drug abuse, the “recovery time” depends on many factors including the organs and systems that have been damaged and the health of the individual, in particular, other medical conditions - such as diabetes or heart disease - which may amplify the damage of drug abuse and/or affect the rate of healing.
For example, according to the National Institutes of Health, “the liver has a unique capacity among organs to regenerate itself after damage. A liver can regrow to a normal size even after up to 90% of it has been removed.” Alternately, brain damage recovery is not so much about rebuilding or repairing brain cells (though this process, called neurogenesis, does happen). Repairing brain damage caused by addiction is more a matter of the brain “reprogramming” itself thanks to the brain’s innate neuroplasticity. (Read more about how the brain recovers from injury.)
There is little or nothing we can do to accelerate the body’s natural healing process. While scientific advances may improve or speed up physical healing, it is still a simple “waiting game.” Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “time takes time”? Nowhere is this more accurate than when healing from physical or emotional damage.
What we can do during the time-consuming process of biological healing is refrain from inflicting any further damage. We can abstain from using drugs to give our bodies time to heal from drug abuse - and also avoid damaging them even more.
Retraining Our Brains
The second aspect of recovery from addiction is retraining our thinking. We cannot retrain our thinking while under the influence of substances, and our bodies cannot heal biological damage under a continuous barrage of damaging substances. But simply abstaining from addictive chemicals and waiting for biological repair to occur is not enough for long-term recovery from addiction. Without therapy or a treatment program focused on our substance abuse, our thoughts (because our brains have been “trained” and structurally changed by addiction), will continue to tell us that we need drugs.
To counter that, we need to focus on retraining our brains, through interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or other mental health treatment that helps recovering addicts fix their diseased thinking. Additionally, most successful addiction recovery includes community reinforcement or social support in recovery efforts. Because it combines many of these things - plus spiritual connection - 12-Step programs are very effective for treating addiction. The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, says “A substantial body of research indicates AA is an effective recovery resource,” but it is not the only path to recovery.
So…How Long Does It Take to Recover from Addiction?
There is no single answer to that question. The speed of physical healing will vary depending on the health of the individual and the type of damage caused by drug use. The amount of time required for retraining our brains and learning new skills to avoid relapse is something that’s hard to quantify. Is it when you’ve completed a treatment program like Asana Recovery? When you’ve gone through all 12 Steps of AA or completed a 12-week CBT course? Is it a time milestone - like 90 days sober - or an internal metric - like the personal experience of having no desire to use?
To repeat an oft-repeated saying in 12-Step meetings: “It takes what it takes.” The general consensus is that addiction recovery is a lifelong process of learning and discovery. And, as long as we stay sober, we can enjoy the journey!
Questions? Comments? Personal experiences? Tell us in the ‘comments.’