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Admitting You Have a Substance Abuse Problem


For many, the hardest step of recovery is admitting you have a problem. Denial is a powerful tool and often carries addicts through years of unnecessary suffering. According to a 2009 survey by SAMHSA, only 11% of the 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older who needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol problem received help at an addiction-based facility.

As addiction centers steer away from a “one size fits all” approach, addicts are discovering that there are countless ways to engage in recovery. Admitting you have a problem does not mean handing over the controls to a recovery team, but rather opens the doors to the formulation of a highly individualized treatment plan.

Making that leap from denial to action is a critical time period. Whether an addict reaches out to a trusted friend or family member or a treatment professional for help, it is most helpful to be aware of the physical, social, and emotional factors that are at play:


The more severe withdrawals from drug and alcohol abuse require medical monitoring. Symptoms of physical withdrawal run the gamut from shakiness and sleep disturbance to seizures and possibly even death. The severity of withdrawals is impacted by the frequency and duration of use as well as the types of substances that were being abused. Less severe symptoms can be monitored on an outpatient basis and often diminish within the first few days of sobriety.

In addition to navigating physical withdrawal symptoms, recovering addicts also experience the discomfort of cravings. Narcanon explains, “An addicted person experiencing drug cravings will feel like life itself is dependent on getting and consuming whatever substance is causing those cravings.” Identifying healthy replacement behaviors is a key step in addressing these symptoms. Cravings tend to decrease in frequency and duration as time goes by and successfully combatting them in early recovery often leads to the adoption of healthy long-term coping strategies.

Nutritional Factors
Long-term drug and alcohol abuse wreaks havoc on the body. As a result, the adoption of a healthy diet and exercise regime is often incorporated into an addict’s treatment plan. Whether disease or more general dietary deficiencies are present, the introduction of a healthier lifestyle can yield promising results.


Setting Boundaries with Existing Peers
It comes as no surprise that addicts associate with other addicts. Aside from ensuring easy access to substances, these unhealthy connections reinforce the common cycle of denial. In early recovery, boundaries must be created between the addict and his former peer group. This is a daunting process, particularly for those addicts who have grown completely alienated from their healthier supports.

Formation of Sober Community
As unhealthy associations are eliminated, it is critical that addicts begin to form relationships with individuals that can empathize. In both inpatient and outpatient treatment settings, sober peer support is encouraged. While trained professionals play a key role in the recovery process, the guidance and strength gleaned from other recovering addicts plays an invaluable role in long-term success.

Involvement in Sober Activities
For addicts, socializing is often synonymous with substance use. Activities are selected based on a the availability of drugs and alcohol, while healthy hobbies and interests are placed on the back burner. Recovery programs encourage reintroducing these healthier social outlets as well as exploring new ones. Click here for a list of fun sober activities.


Ending the Numbing Cycle
Many addicts report using drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medicating or numbing. When life’s inevitable challenges surface, addicts turn to the “quick fix” afforded by substances. While it’s clear to non-addicts that drugs and alcohol are more of a problem than a solution, the addicted brain thrives on misguided distortions. In early recovery, addicts often report an onslaught of emotions. In addition to working through withdrawals and cravings, many years of suppressed feelings bubble up to the surface. Having the support of a treatment team can prove critical during this overwhelming time.

Forging Emotional Supports
In addition to forging healthier social supports in early recovery, it’s also important that an emotional support system is secured. Feelings in early sobriety can range from shame and fear to depression and anxiety. Trained professionals can help addicts identify the source of these emotions while introducing evidence-based tactics to address them.

Establishing a Self-Care Routine
Through the course of an addiction, everything from general hygiene to self-nurturing practices falls to the wayside. The universal goal of substance abuse treatment programs is to equip addicts with the tools necessary to maintain long-term sobriety. While the formation of social and emotional support systems is imperative, it’s also critical that the addict adopts a self-care routine. Attending to one’s physical and emotional needs on a daily basis reinforces self-respect and a commitment to long-term well-being. Learn more about self-care in recovery here.


Admitting you have a problem is the most critical step in the addiction journey. Introducing supports into what can be a highly alienating struggle makes the prospect of recovery far more navigable. Initially, the shifts that occur in early sobriety can feel overwhelming, but by understanding the physical, social, and emotional implications, addicts can remain in the driver’s seat from the onset of the journey.

Brene Brown quote - admitting you have a problem

Rona Barrett quote - admitting you have a problem


jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.

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