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The Science of Recovery

In Oklahoma, the number one cause of death for people aged 25 to 64 is addiction. Whether it’s a friend, a distant relative or a close family member, addiction has most likely affected your life in some way. We’re digging into the science of recovery and the process recovering addicts go through to better understand common feelings, stressors and actions in the long path to recovery.

Your brain during addiction and recovery

Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder of the brain caused by a compulsion to take a drug. Once someone develops an addiction, the brain is essentially rewired to use and need drugs on a continual basis. The Addiction Center says there is a part of the brain responsible for addiction called the limbic system. This system is responsible for producing feelings of pleasure and activates the brain’s reward system, causing you to involuntarily need to use a substance.

The limbic system also controls automatic and subconscious responses, much like the “fight or flight” survival reaction. Relapses occur when the brain goes through increased anxiety, stress or anger from a reaction by a chemical in the brain called adrenal steroids. This reaction can be caused by a person’s trigger points, such as smelling alcohol or being reminded of a certain circumstance. Increased trigger stressors cause endorphins in the body to decrease dramatically, leading to someone wanting that chemical solution to cope, or return to their version of “normal” again.

Reggie Whitten, Oklahoma attorney and founder of FATE (Fighting Addiction Through Education) shares the impact substances had over his son in his recent book Whats Your FATE? He writes, "What I found was that willpower wasn’t enough. This kid had a lot of willpower, and he could not stop... He said, ‘Dad, nobody told me you could get into this stuff and you couldn’t get out.’”

The five stages of addiction recovery

Triggers and stressors can be hard to manage on your own. Most treatment centers teach people to identify and acknowledge triggers through a step-by-step recovery process. Stages of recovery vary depending on the addiction and the treatment center, but here we are focusing on the five stages of addiction recovery.

  • Awareness. In the Awareness stage, there is a realization that there could be a problem. This is based on conversations with friends or coworkers and even financial, work or health problems resulting from addiction. 
  • Early Acknowledgement. Early Acknowledgement is the stage in which an addict actually accepts that action or help is needed.
  • Consideration. Recovering addicts in the Consideration stage have moved from simple awareness to action. This can be learning more about their disease or starting to understand how their actions affect others.
  • Exploring Recovery. Exploring Recovery is the stage where recovery first begins with education about the recovery process and a look at treatment options.
  • Early Recovery. A significant stage of recovery, this is when addicts have stopped using the substance and are learning how to live long-term without it.
  • Active Recovery. Active Recovery includes dramatic lifestyle changes and developing new healthy long-term habits.

Recovery takes time

Recovery is a long process and is unique for every individual. Medical research proves that longer treatment lengths reduce the rates of relapse and help individuals thrive. With Oklahoma’s high numbers of addiction and mental health issues, INTEGRIS has begun construction of the new INTEGRIS Arcadia Trails Center for Addiction and Recovery. The center is designed to treat addiction and mental health disease, by treating every aspect of the disease, with the best of what science and medicine have to offer.

Arcadia Trails plans to provide a serene environment to change lives, heal families and be a beacon of hope for Oklahoma. For more information or to make a donation, visit http://integrisgiving.org/arcadiatrails