Healing from Addiction: 6 Steps on the Road to Recovery

man silhouette in the fogMany people struggle with addictions in today’s stressful society. Drinking and/or using drugs, overeating, sexual compulsions, and gambling are all ways in which individuals attempt to self-soothe and forget about their problems. These misguided methods all have one thing in common—they enable the individual to temporarily attain a different state of consciousness in order to avoid looking at painful emotions they may be feeling.

Alcohol and drugs obviously create altered states of mind, but overeating, gambling, or having a sex addiction do as well. For those who overindulge, food typically brings up early memories of comfort and is used to fill up an inner sense of emptiness. Many who gamble tend to forget or overlook everything except the thrill and excitement of the potential win. For many individuals with a sex addiction, there is an attempt to seek connectedness through the sexual act, without having to connect on an emotional level.

So what are some ways that individuals can learn to cope with their emotions in a healthier way? The following steps can be taken to help overcome an addiction:

  1. Join a support group. There are many different peer-led support groups available that can be very helpful when trying to overcome any kind of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, or Gamblers Anonymous, for example, are all groups where people can relate to others who are dealing with the same types of issues. Individuals hold each other accountable and are often inspired by others’ success stories.
  2. Explore issues that the addiction may be covering up. Often, people resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms because they are struggling with painful emotions and/or traumatic situations that have not been integrated. Seeking out a qualified therapist can be helpful in working through past trauma and learning healthier ways to cope.
  3. Keep track of your triggers. By noting the times you feel tempted to indulge in an addiction, you can begin to bring more awareness to the situation. For example, do you start drinking after work every time your boss criticizes you? Do you binge on fast food whenever your self-esteem is at a low point?
  4. Look for the purpose your addiction may be serving. Many people struggling with addictions have difficulties with relationships. The addiction becomes their relationship of choice, and the individual may spend much of his or her time thinking about ways to indulge in it, rather than examining underlying issues related to connecting with others.
  5. Learn to experience emotions rather than avoid them. Addictions are often an easy way to escape from feeling painful emotions, but this is only a temporary solution and ends up making the problem much worse. Try to spend five to 10 minutes a day just sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on the sensations in your body. Painful emotions tend to be held in the body and are typically experienced as a tightness or constriction. Practice mindfully sitting with the sensations, honoring and welcoming them, rather than trying to push them away. Remember to breathe in and out deeply when doing this exercise.
  6. Journal about your feelings. Journaling is a helpful tool to get uncomfortable emotions off your chest. Whenever you feel triggered to indulge in your addiction, try to write about the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing instead. This technique can also be useful right before going to bed, especially if you tend to toss and turn and ruminate over stressful issues.

Overcoming an addiction can be extremely challenging, but using some or all of the techniques above can be a great starting point. If you have a severe drinking or drug problem, you may need to start off with residential treatment in order to be surrounded by individuals who support you on your healing journey.

The first step can feel like the most difficult one, but recovery from any type of addiction is absolutely possible for anyone willing to reach out for help.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bella

    June 8th, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    For me it is so important to keep my eyes open for the things that I know in the past have triggered me to drink. I can’t hang out with certain people any more or even be in certain situations because these are the things for me that will make me want to have a drink.

    I did not understand all of that for a long time, how places and people would have a real effect on my own individual recovery. It was hard and I lost some really good friends because of having to separate myself from much of my past.

  • Jenny

    June 8th, 2015 at 3:13 PM

    The one thing that always seemed to fuel poor behavior and ultimately addictive behavior for me was trying to run away from the past. I was looking for a way to hide from those hurtful memories that I had and alcohol and pot would help me run and hide. The memories of course always came back when I would sober up so of course I would just start the process all over again until I could feel numb and blackout. believe me that this is not a pretty life to lead, but you know, you live and learn and you figure out that running and hiding is never going to be the perfect answer. There is no perfect answer until you resolve to deal with them head on.

  • henrietta

    June 9th, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    Journaling can be such a healing part of your recovery experience.
    This gives you an opportunity to speak openly and honestly about the issues that you are having to deal with that you feel like no one can understand.
    You put those words that you want to say aloud down onto paper, and it is amazing how real and true it can all seem.
    And it can also give someone else a better idea of the life that you now have to live.

  • R11

    June 10th, 2015 at 12:00 PM

    The road is going to come with purging your life of negative people. There is no room for people like that when you are trying to make something of this broken life that addiction has left you with.

    ‘The sooner you discover the people that need to be thrown out then the sooner you will be able to confront this path to wellness that you need to take yourself on.

  • marquis

    June 11th, 2015 at 1:21 PM

    AA has been my lifesaver.
    Any time I feel like I am going to drown in this, I find a meeting and there is always someone there for me.
    I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of this and continue to stay sober without my sponsor and the encouragement that I get from my meetings.

  • Gabby

    June 11th, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    Even taking some wrong turns in life can point you in a new and better direction

  • Gentle Path at The Meadows

    June 11th, 2015 at 10:52 PM

    Sex addiction is an obsessive relationship to sexual thoughts, fantasies or activities that an individual continues to engage in despite adverse consequences.

  • Andrew

    June 12th, 2015 at 1:31 PM

    I often think about my own addictions, and I wonder if somehow my own life could have or would have been different? Like if I had I been raised in a different town, or by different parents, or gone to a different school, or if this is just who I am and who I was made to be? Was this the battle that I was put here to fight, my cross to bear? Or is that something that I was made into, or that I have chosen as part of my identity?

  • Sonya

    June 16th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    I’m a 34 year old women that’s been struggling with addiction for sometime now. And I can’t seem to get help anywhere because of money issues. And the medical plan I have is through the state and no love there. I’ve lost almost everything because of this. I tried self help stuff and talking to people, but to find out some of these people are blabbing about me. I really need help. If anyone’s out there please get back to me. A LOSING ADDICT AT THE END OF HER ROPES.

  • GoodTherapy Admin

    GoodTherapy Admin

    June 16th, 2015 at 11:29 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Sonya. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Wendy Salazar

    Wendy Salazar

    June 16th, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Hi Sonya,
    So sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling to find help with healing from your addiction. In addition to the resources that the Good Therapy Admin provided you with, I would encourage you to find an AA or NA meeting in your area where you can find some support. This is a no cost option where you can share what you’ve been going through with individuals struggling with similar issues and obtain a sponsor to help you. There are also low cost psychotherapy options available in many areas, so you may want to check what is available in your town. One group that I know of is the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, but there are usually other low cost clinics available depending on where you live. You could try googling this to see what is available in your area.
    Best of luck on your healing journey.
    Wendy Salazar

  • Ashleigh e

    April 8th, 2016 at 11:24 PM

    Sonya… I’m in the same spot. 33 years old, been an addict for years and have had periods (months, years, of sobriety) only to go back to addiction. You and me both know, if you have the money to be an addict, you have the money to seek treatment. It’s just a matter of how tired are you? It’s a tough way to live. but the first step is to make the decision and look in the mirror. I need to take my own advice and also do this. I have lost jobs, friends, loves, and the worst of all, my self worth and respect. But I also find the best time to make a change is a time of loss and crisis. There is nowhere to go but up. I wish you luck, sincerely <3

  • Nandakumar

    May 16th, 2016 at 9:16 PM

    Becoming conscious of personal boundaries and the lack of them was a big step for me. I still indulge myself sometimes and I’m learning more about the loss of self that occurs when indulging in addictive behaviour..its the overstimulation that does it for me..I’ve learnt to focus on an inner sound and that seems to strengthen my boundary from both the external stimulus and my inner self.

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