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Treatment Issues in Early Abstinence

The Second Stage of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Recovery


Updated February 11, 2014

If you seek professional help for an alcohol or drug problems, these are some of the issues that your counselors will help you with during the early abstinence stage of your recovery.

Social Pressures

For many alcoholics and addicts, their entire social life revolve around their drinking buddies or drug-using friends. After you enter recovery, you may find that most, if not all, of your friends were other alcoholics or addicts. These "friends" can put a tremendous amount of pressure on you to relapse.

They may not want you to recover, because if they accept that you are an alcoholic or an addict, that means that they probably are, too. Consequently, they may blatantly or subtly try to sabotage your recovery.

Your counselor will strongly encourage you to avoid your old friends at all costs during early abstinence. You will be encouraged to make new, sober friends. You will also be encouraged to participate in support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, where you can develop positive relationships with drug-free and recovering people.

Postacute Withdrawal Symptoms

The physical withdrawal symptoms from quitting alcohol and drugs go away in a relative short time, usually less than a week. But many alcoholics and addicts will experience long-lasting changes in mood, affect, and memory throughout early abstinence. Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and memory loss. These symptoms are known as postacute withdrawal symptoms.

If you develop any of these symptoms during your treatment, your counselor will try to help you realize that they are the result of your alcohol or drug use and are not independent, fundamental problems. You will learn that these symptoms can't be self-medicated and will only become worse with further drug use. And like cravings, they too shall pass.

Use of Other Drugs

You may decide that you are really only addicted to your drug of choice, although you frequently use another drug or drugs as well. If you used cocaine, for example, you may not consider your alcohol consumption to be at a problem level. Or if you were a problem drinker, you may consider smoking marijuana to be less harmful.

During your treatment, your counselor will encourage you to achieve total abstinence. Here are the reasons that total abstinence is critical to your recovery:

  • Other drugs, such as alcohol, can trigger a craving for your drug of choice.
  • You might transfer your addiction from one drug to the other.
  • If you continue using, you will not learn how to cope without mood-altering aids.
Although your current use of other drugs may not currently be a problem, if continued, they could quickly become substitutions for your drug of choice.

Getting Through Early Abstinence

This stage of recovery is not easy, which is why few manage to accomplish it without help. If you are in a professional treatment program, you will receive support and encouragement you need to make it. You will set and meet goals that are necessary for your continued recovery.

Your counselor will help you establish a drug-free lifestyle that involves participating in support groups; avoiding social contact with drug-using friends; avoiding high-risk situations and triggers; and replacing your former drug-related efforts with healthy recreational activities.

You will be given the tools you need to live a clean and sober life.

Return to The Four Stages of Recovery


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide." Revised 2007.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction: The Collaborative Cocaine Treatment Study Model." Accessed May 2009.

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