How Long Does It Take to Break an Addiction?

Addiction is often associated with habits. Often when one searches, “How long does it take to break an addiction,” they find that many ‘experts’ claim that it takes 21 days to break a habit.

This statement alone shows you how incredibly different a habit is from an addiction. If 21 days is all it takes, we would have millions of people sober and in recovery.

How Long Does It Take to Break an Addiction? | Transitions

If 21 days is all it takes, why are so many people relapsing after discharge from a treatment center only to relapse and re-enter the program multiple times.

Addiction is something far greater than a habit. Addiction has taken over the lives of over 23 million Americans over the age of 12. And just a small percentage of those receive proper treatment. Addiction is also something far more pervasive than getting sober or detoxing. Just because there are no more substances in your body, does not mean you are no longer an addict.

Having said that, breaking an addiction can be done. Millions have done it and so can you. Below are the steps to what it takes, and the recommended length of time needed, to break an addiction. 

Stage 1

During this stage, the addict must come to terms with their addiction. They are scared to stop using drugs or alcohol because they fear the withdrawal effects. There are very few addicts who genuinely love the lifestyle of addiction, which can involve degrading, illegal acts just to avoid withdrawal.

They want to get clean and they know they need to get clean, but they are fearful of what getting cleans means in their life. They need to understand what they can gain and what they can lose if their addiction continues.

Breaking an addiction must also include potential enablers, family and friends who are good people, but are helping an addict kill themselves when they aid an addict in getting drugs.

Stage 1 can take months or years. However, the sooner the addict has no access to money, cell phones, car rides and anything else that helps them get drugs, the sooner they can realize they need help.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is when breaking the addiction can begin, the actual physical and mental part of breaking the addiction.

This cannot be done without medical and mental health intervention. That’s because addiction always accompanies a medical or mental health problem, or vice versa.

Stage 2 is when an addict enters a detoxification program. After a week, the detox is complete. When they enter a treatment facility, their withdrawal symptoms can be treated and they can begin to focus on healing rather than being sick.

Stage 3

Stage 3 is when an addict moves from detoxification to an inpatient residential facility. The hard truth is that insurance companies don’t like to pay for longer than two to four weeks of treatment. However, much more time is needed to truly break an addiction.

Fortunately, treatment facilities are good at working with insurance companies to extend length of stay. They also have access to scholarships and grants for addicts who are truly engaged in overcoming their addiction. 

To break an addiction, the longer the person is away from substances, the better chance they have of staying sober. This has nothing to do with will power and has everything to do with the brain of an addict.

Addiction is a brain disorder. When a person gets high, that means the dopamine levels in their brain have spiked much higher than what they can spike without drugs. The brain loves feeling high.

So, when it starts to feel the high fading away, it goes to work, putting obsessive thoughts in your mind, and physical illness in your body. Without treatment and learning how to cope with cravings, it becomes too hard to stay sober.

Six months in treatment is a fair amount of time to help someone start recovery. One year is even better. Some reports claim it takes at least a year for the brain to heal from the damage that it has incurred due to drug use.

That doesn’t mean they will be living in inpatient treatment for a whole year. Instead, it means they will participate in every step-down phase of treatment, from detox to outpatient counseling.

Throughout their time in treatment they will learn why they are addicted, coping skills and relapse prevention skills. An addict needs all the ammo they can gather to fight something as strong as addiction.

Also, in this stage, the family must receive counseling to learn how to help the addict stay sober. They need to learn how to stop enabling, how to stop codependency, and how to take back and enjoy their own lives.

Stage 4

After a year in Stage 3, addiction doesn’t just go away. Support must continue in the form of a sponsor, meetings, group therapy, and positive activities that lead to a positive lifestyle. This stage lasts for years, maybe even the rest of an addict’s life.

Stage 4 is when an addict implements all they have learned while in treatment. It is also the stage where they can begin to help others. Giving back is associated with sobriety and recovery. It gives you a sense of value and belonging, two things that are used against you when you are using drugs.

This stage is a celebration period. You have overcome hardships, you are living a new lifestyle, you are a new person. Celebrate the new you.

Keep in Mind

There are a few final points to make when discussing how long it takes to break an addiction. Every addict has a different story that varies in substance use, length of use, mental and physical health, and even motivation to stay sober.

These factors, as well as many others, can shorten or lengthen the time it takes to break and addiction. This is likely why mainstream treatments can’t be a one size fits all method of treatment. The more individualized the treatment plan, the higher the odds you will break your addiction for good.

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