Abstinence Does Not Equal Recovery: What is the Difference?

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Making the decision to get clean and sober is a major life moment and requires  a full commitment of body, mind, and soul. You know that you have to go all in and the prospect of a happier and healthier life in recovery is exciting. However, the path to recovery is also full of uncertainty and challenges, and you will have a million questions while you start that journey. Arguably the single most important question that you need to answer for yourself is “what is recovery?” In order to get the most from your sobriety, you need to truly understand what recovery really means.

When you grow in your recovery, you will meet many people and hear many things in regards to what sobriety and recovery mean and what needs to be done in order to accomplish those goals. One of the most common things that you hear regarding recovery is that you have to be abstinent from using drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes, those in the recovery community will use the words abstinence and recovery interchangeably. While the two concepts are similar on the surface, they have completely different meanings–and these meanings can impact your recovery.

Defining Abstinence

unhappy man

If we take a look at the definition of the word abstinence as offered by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we will see the following:

the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable”

If we apply this to addiction, abstinence would be the simple act of not using drugs and alcohol. By practicing abstinence you are taking care of the physical nature of addiction which is the actual taking of the substance, but you aren’t really tackling the deeper issues that lie at the root of the addictive behavior. Examples of these issues can include traumatic life events, family history and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

If people who are in recovery have the mind frame of being abstinent from substance use, they will try and power through the using thoughts and cravings that are an everyday occurrence in early recovery through willpower and determination. Without embracing the essential elements that provide the foundations of recovery (i.e. treatment, meetings, aftercare, etc.) people who are purely in abstinence mindset are more prone to cycle through periods of relapse and sobriety.

Defining Recovery

happy joyous and free man

While abstinence only covers the physical aspects of addiction, recovery encompasses all aspects of an addict’s recovery. If we look at the definition of recovery as provided by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary we see the following:

the act or process of becoming healthy after an illness or injury : the act or process of recovering

When the addict pursues recovery, they are looking to restore not only their physical health and well-being, they are seeking to also restore their emotional, psychological and spiritual health. Ultimately, recovery is about freedom, peace and experiencing a real sense of joy. It is about living life to the fullest and becoming comfortable in your own skin.

Twelve-Step groups often talk about the deeper meaning of recovery from addiction. The following are some insights regarding the concept of recovery that are offered by Narcotics Anonymous:

  • Many people think that recovery is simply a matter of not using drugs. They consider a relapse a sign of complete failure, and long periods of abstinence a sign of complete success. We in the recovery program of Narcotics Anonymous have found that this perception is too simplistic.”
  • “We have observed some members who remain abstinent for long periods of time whose dishonesty and self-deceit still prevent them from enjoying complete recovery and acceptance within society.”
  • “Recovery, as experienced through our Twelve Steps, is our goal, not mere physical abstinence.”
  • “Working the program, the Twelve Steps of NA, has given us a new outlook on our lives. Today, we no longer need to make excuses for who we are. We find fulfillment in living today. With our Higher Power guiding us, we lose the desire to use.”
  • “Recovery is to get back what was lost. To regain sanity, manageability, and serenity.”

Tying It All Together

Addiction is a progressive and complex disease. While addiction is a disease of the body, it is also a disease of the mind and of the spirit–that is where recovery comes in. As stated earlier in this article, people who practice abstinence from drugs and alcohol only takes care of the physical part of the disease. In order to address the emotional and spiritual issues of addiction, addicts must embrace a recovery mentality

Recovery is about taking care of all aspects of one’s self – physical, emotional, spiritual. It is also about making a wholehearted and sincere effort to live a life of both honesty and integrity. When addicts truly embrace recovery, they can fully admit wrongdoing and take the necessary steps to make things right. It is about being of service to others and letting go of self-obsession. Ultimately, recovery is about taking steps every day to become a better version of one’s self.

Dealing with addiction can at times be overwhelming and you can feel at times like you are being pulled in a million different directions. There may be times when you feel you may not be going in the right direction and there are times where you may feel adrift and even stuck. Abstinence is by no means a negative thing; in fact, it is an important component of the recovery process. However, abstinence in of itself will not help you fully recover from the often devastating impacts of addiction.

Call Ocean Breeze Recovery Center Today And Experience Recovery

If you are tired of struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and truly want to become well, the experienced staff at Ocean Breeze Recovery Center can provide you the tools you need to make lifelong recovery a reality in your life. We offer a wide variety of therapies that are effective, proven to work and can be individually tailored to meet your needs. From medical detox, treatment and aftercare programs, Ocean Breeze Recovery Center will be with you every step of the way, providing top-notch care delivered with compassion and respect.

Call us toll-free and experience what recovery truly means.

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