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Recovery: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has this to say about recovery: “[It] is a process of change and growth through which people with substance use disorders stop using, and reestablish friendships and family ties, build positive social networks, and become productive and responsible citizens. It is characterized by health, wellness, a sense of purpose, and productive involvement with family and community.”

So, recovery is a good thing, right? Then, how can it ever be bad or ugly? Like all things, there are many sides to recovery and if the bad and ugly are never addressed, they come as a real shock when they crop up. But, even the bad and the ugly are ultimately part of a great process.

The Good

It’s important to keep in mind that recovery isn’t easy, and it isn’t just about abstaining from drug use. By the time a person is in recovery, their addiction has taken over their lives. The National Institute on Drug Use notes: “The compulsion to get drugs, take drugs, and experience the effects of drugs has dominated their every waking moment, and abusing drugs has taken the place of all the things they used to enjoy doing. It has disrupted how they function in their family lives, at work, and in the community, and has made them more likely to suffer from other serious illnesses.” Full recovery addresses all of the aspects of addiction. If you are seeking a program that will meet your needs and support you fully through recovery, contact SubstanceAbuse.org at 1-800-895-1695 for a referral.

However, as hard as it is, recovery offers a lot of good things:

  • You feel accomplished.
  • Your hard work is rewarded.
  • Your support system strengthens.
  • Your physical health improves.
  • Your mental health improves.
  • You make better decisions.
  • Your mortality rate decreases.
  • Your high-risk behavior diminishes.
  • Your quality of life improves.
  • Your social functioning increases.
  • You unemployment likelihood decreases.

The Bad

lonely in recovery

Cutting negative influences from your life can make you feel lonely.

As good as recovery can feel, there are some parts of it that are inconvenient at their best and really bad at their worst. For example, changes in personal community—relationships and social networks—can be especially painful. People in recovery need to be surrounded by love and support from people who have an investment in their success. That means cutting out negative people and people who are still showing or supporting addictive behavior.

A lot of addicts in recovery think fondly about the glory days of getting high or drunk with friends and reveling in each other’s company. The problem with that is that it is shortsighted. It overlooks completely the other times when they felt sick, lost friends, lost jobs, alienated family, etc. Friends who still use won’t ever be able to support recovery, but cutting them out of a life is painful nonetheless.

It makes sense to stop seeing or speaking to people who are still abusing substances, but negative people as well? Yes. A lot of people begin using because of social discomfort and it is important to be mindful of that trigger while in recovery. One of the most difficult social relationships is the one you have with a negative person and spending too much time with one can prove detrimental to sobriety.

The Ugly

Addicts in recovery will continue to feel that they are the problem. Even ones who have turned themselves over to a higher power as part of a 12 step program will need to return again and again to that step because guilt, shame, and remorse follow the addict.

A lot of addicts continue to feel responsible for their addiction well through treatment. There is the sense that they are flawed on a fundamental level and that they deserved the misfortune that surrounded their addiction. And, of course, they will because addiction fuels the cycle of self-hate.

When people begin using, they try to do it in a way that lines up with their core values: drinking at a party or at a bar with friends. Over time, as addiction sets in, their addictive behavior intensifies and they are no longer tethered to their core values; they are day drinking, sneaking it into their workplace, driving while drunk. Every time an addict steps outside the boundary of their moral center, they feel a little hatred for themselves and they respond to these feelings by trying to dull them with more addictive activity. The cycle needs to be stopped and doing so is terrible, but it can be done.

The reality is that even the bad and the ugly of addiction are good. Self-loathing is a sign that there is still a moral core to return to; the negative feelings become promoters of long-term sobriety because addicts will pursue sobriety rather than give into a toxic shame spiral. Even the discomfort of ending friendships leads to a good place because it creates a support group that encourages sobriety.

When you are facing what feel like bad and ugly parts of recovery, take a step back and assess the ways in which these are good things in disguise. If you’re looking for help seeing the good in recovery, call 1-800-895-1695 to speak with a caring placement counselor.

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