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If you’re like most people who choose residential addiction treatment, you’re going to drug rehab because your life has become unmanageable, you know you need to quit using or drinking and you know you can’t do it on your own.

And if you’re like most people heading to rehab – you know you need to make some changes in life, but you’re not sure of how or even what to change, and since the drugs or alcohol are such an everyday presence in your life, it’s hard to even find the clarity of mind you need to think about these very important issues.

So, what do we go to rehab to do anyway and what kinds of specific changes and self improvement does a person in drug rehab strive to achieve?

Well, according to the experts at Hazelden, a person working to overcome addiction needs to focus on self improvement in four basic areas of life:

  1. Medical/Physical
  2. Psychological
  3. Interpersonal
  4. Spiritual

Addiction is a disease of the body, mind and spirit and it damages functioning in all of these areas. Recovery of the mind or the body or the spirit alone is rarely sufficient, so a good recovery program helps clients to achieve change and self improvement in all of these areas.

Medical/Physical Self Improvement

People rarely come into drug rehab in optimal physical health. They are often suffering direct health deficits from the toxic consequences of their drug abuse and they are often in ill health and in poor physical fitness from the neglectful lifestyles that typically accompany addiction.

Poor physical health affects cognition, mood and energy levels and so it very directly affects recovery efforts. For example:

  • A person with dental pain that had been masked by opiates might find abstinence very difficult until the pain had been eliminated
  • A person with very poor eating habits might find that learning healthier eating helps them to avoid relapse by moderating blood sugar spikes and valleys
  • A very sedentary person might learn that physical exercise helps to reduce stress and thereby reduce relapse risk

So medical/physical self improvement is an important aspect in any drug rehab recovery program. Some of the changes a person might expect to make could include changes in diet and in exercise.

A person might also need medical attention and medication to deal with chronic illness or disease.

Psychological Self Improvement

Whether you use drugs or alcohol as a way to escape from past trauma, as a way to handle your anxiety or depression, because you lack impulse control or because of a thousand other possible causes, you will very likely benefit from individual or group psychotherapy to gain a better understanding of why you use – and to learn how to handle your emotions and impulses in healthier ways.

Working to improve thinking and emotional control is beneficial for every person who struggles with addiction, but for those who suffer a co-occurring mental health disorder, psychological self improvement is of paramount importance. You cannot hope to overcome addiction without bettering symptoms of mental illness, which if left untreated, will almost certainly lead to relapse and continued addiction.

Interpersonal Change and Improvements

Some of the most difficult changes necessary are interpersonal in nature:

  • If your friends or family like to use drugs then you will have to consider limiting your exposure to these people. This is obviously a very difficult thing for most people to do.

But in addition to changing who you spend your time with, you’ll also have to overcome the tendency for those in recovery to slip into isolation. You need peer contact; you just need to find ways to make friends who support your continued recovery.

Learning how to have fun without drugs and alcohol, learning how to handle boredom and free time and meeting people who will support your recovery are all very important aspects of an addiction treatment program.

Spiritual Change and Improvement

Spiritual need not mean religious or faith based (though it can) but for the best odds at lasting recovery you need to find and understand your place in the universe.

Spiritual improvements can help a person to overcome a negative outlook or a sense of hopelessness and can help a person to find peace and centeredness within themselves, without having to resort to an artificial or chemically induced serenity. 

Only you can explore and define your own spirituality, but it’s important that you spend some time and effort in the process, since gains made here reap huge dividends across the battlefield of recovery.

Because spirituality is so important, virtually all rehab programs will devote some attention to facilitating change and self improvement in this area.1

  • 1. At Wit’s End: Addiction and Mental Illness - What You Need to Know When a Loved One Is Diagnosed with Addiction and Mental Illness. Chapter 12 – Core Concepts for Treating Co-Occurring Disorders. Jeff Jay and Jerry A. Boriskin, PH.D: Copyright  2007
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Page last updated Jun 22, 2012

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