Understanding How Long-Term Recovery Changes You

Changes in Personality After Getting Sober. There is a question that often comes up before someone starts a recovery program: “Is recovery going to change me?” Now, this is certainly a loaded question and can be interpreted in numerous ways. However, when it is asked in this context, it is most likely because people are worried about losing their core self. The good news is that recovery is not going to change the parts that make an individual who they are. It is not going to change what makes them unique and special. However, yes, long-term recovery brings about many changes; positive ones.

The Stigma of Psychological Changes in Long-Term Recovery

An even more upfront way to think about the fear of change in recovery is by recognizing that people have a fear of being “brain-washed.” This “brain-wash” concept is a stigma from what addiction treatment looked like a century ago. This is when people thought that addiction was some type of personal psychological failing or flaw that needed to be eliminated by any means necessary, even through unfounded and untested means (such as via lobotomy, as a sad example).

Now, it is much more understood that addiction is a disease rather than a personal choice or internal “flaw.” Also, as a disease, addiction often affects one’s psychological health in damaging ways. Addiction can break someone down emotionally to the point that they feel like there is no alternative to the negative state that they are in. This is the psychological despair that most people share in addiction. The details of their stories may differ, but their negative emotions and behaviors are quite often the same.

Recognizing Psychological Despair Often Felt in Active Addiction

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Interestingly enough, it is often the “emotional hangover” that keeps people in active addiction longer than the actual substance does. Of course, this does not diminish the very real physical components of craving and withdrawal in addiction. 

The psychological despair that is involved in an emotional hangover is what makes people feel hopeless and unworthy of recovery. These negative emotions are what have to shift if there is going to be any hope of recovery. Of course, this does not mean that they have to shift right away.

A Positive Psychological Transition

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Psychological change rarely happens right away in recovery. It generally comes after an individual has put in a lot of work and taken a lot of action in their recovery journey. Furthermore, psychological change must be cultivated through a program of recovery.

This happens in different ways in different types of recovery. For example, in 12-Step recovery, The Twelve Steps are utilized to bring about psychological change. 

In “traditional” psychotherapy-based recovery, working with a therapist helps to get to the underlying emotional issues that often cause addictive behaviors and then works to alter and ultimately avoid those behaviors in the future. The key to both of these types of recovery is sticking to the set plan because recovery does not really have a finish line – especially healthy recovery.

Positive Long-Term Psychological Changes in Long-Term Recovery

There is a section in the primary text of 12-Step recovery titled “The Doctor’s Opinion.” In it, a prominent physician and early adopter of the 12-Step program, Dr. Silkworth, explains, “We doctors have realized for a long time that some form of moral psychology was of urgent importance to [people struggling with addiction], but its application presented difficulties beyond our conception.”

What he is getting at is that there must be an emotional and behavioral (psychological) shift that must take place if one is going to recover in the long term. Now, this is pretty straightforward if one breaks it down. One must change how they view and behave toward themselves and others if they are going to feel satisfied in recovery. Ultimately, positive psychology can stave off the negative emotions that can sometimes creep back up in recovery.

This psychological shift also isn’t meant to diminish what other treatment methods can offer. In fact, many of these treatment methods are what offer individuals the psychological change that they are looking for.