Abstinence vs. Recovery

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Many clients who come into my office to begin their journey to recovery do not know what they are getting themselves into. This is because they do not understand the difference between abstinence and recovery.

I recently came across a quote on addictstoday.com that explains the difference well. It states, “You don’t get over an addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier not to use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.”

In other words, abstinence is the removal of something negative, either alcohol or drugs, from one’s life. Recovery is the removal of something negative and the addition of something positive into one’s life.

Why is Recovery More Important Than Abstinence?

In my experience, the clients who have the most success with their sobriety are those who practice recovery. While abstinence may seem easy at first, it gradually becomes harder and harder to maintain because the underlying issues are not being addressed. Many people practicing abstinence will notice themselves continuing to engage in addict behaviors, like lying and manipulating, even though they are no longer using substances.

Another reason abstinence is difficult to maintain is because the removal of the negative substances leaves a void. Before long, an addict will feel the need to fill that void—usually in an unhealthy way.

Recovery may seem overwhelming at first because of the changes one has to make, but once these changes are made, recovery is easier to sustain and life has more value.

Shaylyn Forte, M.Ed., CAADC