There and Back Again: The Path to Addiction and the Journey to Recovery

There and Back Again is the subtitle to J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel The Hobbit—which is, of course, the story of someone going on a journey and then coming back home. The journey is dangerous and full of pitfalls, which makes returning home all the sweeter.

The notion of “there and back again” could be used to describe the path that leads to addiction followed by the journey that leads to recovery. Each half of the round trip can be split into five steps. Let’s take a look at how substance use can take you “there” and recovery can bring you “back again.”

The Five Stages of Addiction

A substance use disorder does not develop all at once. Instead, a number of sequential steps take you from a non-user of drugs or alcohol to a person who is addicted. Those steps include:

  • The First Use and Pattern Development: The path to a substance use disorder starts at the very beginning—that first use. Whether the substance in question is a prescription drug, a legal drug, alcohol, or an illicit substance, the first step often leads to the development of a pattern of use that stems from a desire to keep feeling however the drug makes you feel. Using drugs or drinking alcohol may feel like an escape from the challenges in your life.
  • Continued Steady Use: Once a pattern has developed, it is no surprise that the pattern reinforces itself and becomes regular, steady substance use. During this stage, recovery time from drug use may begin to take longer because the brain is struggling to chemically repair itself. An increase in risky behavior—driving under the influence, reckless sexual choices, getting into fights—is often seen during this stage.
  • Tolerance: Eventually, regular drug use leads to an increased tolerance for the substance in question. This means it now takes more of the drug to have the same effects it had when you started. As the brain continues to suffer under the influence of the drugs or alcohol, physical and emotional side effects start to worsen as well.
  • Dependence: It is a short step from tolerance to dependence, but a person who has taken that step now finds that they can hardly function at all if they are denied their drug of choice for any period. Psychological and physical cravings increase in intensity, and withdrawal symptoms fire up rapidly in the absence of the substance.
  • Addiction: At this point, a person simply feels as though they cannot live without the drugs or alcohol to which they are addicted. They may lose their job, drop out of school, destroy family relationships, and more. Their physical and emotional well-being will continue to decline. Ironically, there is a strong possibility they do not even enjoy the feelings the drug inspires anymore, but still feel helpless to stop taking it. 

The Five Stages of Recovery

No matter how dire the situation may seem—and no matter where you are on the journey sketched out above—you can get help and get yourself on the path to recovery. That path to recovery includes:

  • Pre-contemplation: During this stage, a person using drugs or alcohol may honestly believe they do not have a problem. Maybe there have been no significant consequences yet. Or maybe they believe they are completely in control of their substance use. Either way, this stage ends when they start to see that something probably needs to change sooner rather than later.
  • Contemplation: The good news is that the person with a substance use problem is thinking about addressing the situation. The bad news is that they probably aren’t doing anything about it just yet. This period can last quite a long time—and the person is likely to keep drinking or using drugs while they are contemplating making a change—but eventually the appeal of life without dependence on drugs can lead to the next stage.
  • Preparation: At this point, a serious search for an appropriate recovery center or program may be underway. Many people feel a true sense of excitement during this stage; they are looking forward to restarting their life free from the influence of drugs or alcohol. This portion of the journey merges smoothly into the next.
  • Action: Once a person enters a treatment center for detoxification and rehabilitation, the work of recovery is truly getting started. While in treatment at an accredited recovery center (like The Aviary Recovery Center), they will learn strategies, coping skills, and healthy approaches to life that will help them maintain their sobriety over time. They will leave treatment armed with information, encouragement, and ongoing support to help prevent a relapse.
  • Maintenance: Avoiding relapse is the key part of this final step. Employing the strategies learned, taking advantage of resources like 12-Step programs, and making needed changes in life to avoid the triggers that led to addiction are all essential to staying sober. After all, if you have come so far on this journey, now is not the time to head down the wrong path again.\

We Can Help Get You Traveling in the Right Direction

If your current path in life includes a substance use disorder, it is time to change course. At The Aviary Recovery Center, we can help you get yourself pointed in the right direction with personalized, compassionate care designed to help you leave drugs or alcohol far behind you. The journey to recovery can be a challenging one, but the destination is far preferable to the one found at the end of the path to addiction. We will make sure you have the support and resources you need to get sober and to stay sober. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, the next stop on your journey should be here.