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The First Steps to Recovery

Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School
Excerpted from a Harvard Special Health Report

If you decide to make a change, you'll have to sort out exactly what, when, and how you want to change. That will depend a lot on your view of the problem. Those who are most invested and motivated to change will have the best chance of success.

Assuming you want to make a change, the next step is to choose your goals. Ask yourself:

  • When do I want to make a change?

  • Do I want to stop altogether or do I want to simply cut down?

If you decide you want to cut down, determine the level to which you want to limit your use or participation and be specific. As with any behavior change, you might find the following "SMART" goals helpful. Your goal should be:

  • Specific, meaning you should set a specific goal, such as, "I will stop drinking any alcohol between the hours of 1 a.m. and 10 a.m."

  • Measurable, meaning that your success should be easy to quantify. In the case of the goal mentioned above, you might keep a log of your consumption to be sure that you adhere to your goal.

  • Achievable, meaning your goal should be something you are physically capable of doing today, and something that would be safe for you to do. If you drink chronically, round-the-clock, the sample goal might not be safe without the help of a doctor, because the interruption in drinking could bring on life-threatening withdrawal consequences.

  • Realistic, meaning that it is something you believe you can do.

  • Time-based, meaning that you should set a date and time when you start the goal, and you should examine your progress at regular intervals.

Change is a gradual process and takes time. The first three to six months of change are usually the most difficult. The period after that will be hard, too, but not quite like it was in the beginning. If you get discouraged, remember that others before you have overcome addiction.

Five Action Steps for Change

Research shows that the following steps can help you quit addiction, and that when taken together, these steps offer the greatest chance of success.

  1. Set a quit date. It might be helpful to choose a meaningful date like a special event, birthday, or anniversary.

  2. Change your environment. Remove any reminders of your addiction from your home and workplace. For example, separate from those who would encourage you to be involved with the object of your addiction (drug, alcohol, or behavior). If you are trying to quit drinking, get rid of any alcohol, bottle openers, wine glasses, and corkscrews. If you're trying to quit gambling, remove any reminders of your gambling and gambling venue, such as playing cards, scratch tickets, or poker chips. Also, don't let other people use or bring reminders of the addiction-related substance or behavior into your home.

  3. Learn new skills and activities. Instead of giving in to an urge to use, come up with alternative activities, such as going for a walk, to keep you busy until the urge passes. Be prepared to deal with things that trigger your cravings, such as being in an environment where others are using.

  4. Review your past attempts at quitting. Think about what worked and what did not. Think of what might have contributed to relapse and change accordingly.

  5. Create a support network. Talk to your family and friends, and ask for their encouragement and support. Let them know you are quitting. If they use your object of addiction, ask them not to do so in front of you. If you buy drugs, you should consider telling your dealer that you are quitting; ask your dealer not to call you and not to sell you drugs anymore. Also, you might want to consider talking to your health care provider about the method of quitting that is best for you. There may be medications that can ease the process for you, and increase your chances of success.

Seeking Treatment

Although natural recovery works for some people, others find that they want or need the support of their peers or the help of health professionals as they negotiate recovery.

The most effective treatment is the one that you will stick to, so first figure out what you need, and then find the treatment that can offer you a program that matches your needs best. For example, treatment can be low-key and self-directed, or intense and militant. You'll have to decide where on that continuum you want to be. Plus, you may decide to combine elements to meet all of your needs. Regardless of where you start, addiction treatment and lifestyle change will take time. There is no quick fix.

Last Annual Review Date: 2011-11-01 Copyright: Harvard Health Publications
This content is selected and managed by the Healthgrades editorial staff.