Addiction Recovery

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Addiction Recovery?

Addiction recovery refers to a process an individual goes through when taking positive steps to recover from addiction pertaining to alcohol use, drug use, sexual impulses, or other behaviors. (1) While there are many types of addictions, they share four common elements. Sometimes referred to as the 4 Cs of addiction, the 4 common elements are:

  • Compulsion
  • Craving
  • Consequences 
  • Control


Whether an individual is dealing with alcohol abuse, gambling, drug, sexual, or other behavioral addiction, compulsions drive them to seek out the object of their addictions. Cravings occur in all types of addictions, even non-substance behavioral addictions.

All addictions have consequences to an extent, ranging from hangovers due to drinking too much to financial debt caused by compulsive gambling. The final element, control, pertains to the idea that individuals who struggle with addiction may find it difficult to control their cravings and behaviors. (2)

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Some types of treatments and therapies utilized in addiction recovery include drug and alcohol rehabilitation, counseling, 12-step programs, educational services, and life skills classes. People with substance use disorders may also struggle with mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. In these situations, treating both the underlying condition and the addiction can help people move toward recovery. (3)

Porn Addiction & Sexual Addiction Recovery

Sexual addiction and porn addiction cause individuals to become hyper-focused on sexual behaviors, urges, or pornographic materials. With porn and sexual addictions, people feel they cannot control their urges or desires. Behaviors associated with sexual addictions can include engaging in sexual acts with multiple partners, infidelity, and viewing pornographic content. 

Sexual and porn addictions can leave lasting effects on both the individual dealing with the addiction and their loved ones. For example, if a person seeks multiple sexual partners outside their relationship, this can lead to problems within the family. It can also increase an individual's risk of developing a sexually transmitted disease. If they spend hours viewing pornographic content instead of socializing or going to work, this can affect their friendships and put them at risk of losing their job. 

Treatment options to help people recover from sexual addictions may include medications such as antidepressants or drugs that target male sex hormones. Individuals with sexual addictions can also benefit by working with counselors who can help them understand the underlying issues that may be triggering their behaviors. (4)

The specific cause of sexual addiction or hypersexuality isn't fully understood. However, some experts believe it may be linked to an imbalance of brain chemicals that increase sexual desires. Traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse may also trigger sexual addictions. While some individuals with histories of sexual trauma may avoid sex, others may become hypersexual. The belief behind this theory is that on a subconscious level, the person struggling with addiction is looking for a way to regain control over their sexuality after it was taken from them without consent. (5)

Drug & Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Drug and alcohol addiction, also referred to as substance use disorder and/or alcohol use disorder, are conditions in which an individual becomes dependent on mind-altering substances.

The specific causes of drug and alcohol addiction are unknown, but many experts believe that these addictions may be linked to dopamine levels in the brain. (6)

Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps balance mood and makes people feel happy and content. (7) Alcohol and certain drugs can trigger the release of dopamine, making a person feel "good." With addiction, people become dependent on those "good" feelings brought on by alcohol or drugs. Over time, the craving for that "dopamine high" can train the brain to seek out drugs and alcohol compulsively. 

One challenge with substance use disorder is that at first, a person may only need a few sips of alcohol, one hit of a drug, or one pill to experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria. As time goes on, the body can develop a tolerance to alcohol and drugs, which means the individual must consume larger amounts to achieve the initial "good" feelings.

In addition to creating dependency, excessive consumption of drugs and/or alcohol can sometimes lead to significant health issues. (8) Some studies have shown that heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of heart disease, liver disease, and kidney disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heroin, prescription opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine make up approximately 80% of drug overdose deaths. 

There are many options for individuals seeking recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. One option is to participate in a 12-step program. These utilize a 12-step plan that helps individuals take responsibility for their struggles with substance use. (9)

In addition to 12-step or other recovery programs, individuals with substance use issues can also seek treatment at an addiction recovery center and participate in inpatient or outpatient recovery programs. The specifics of each addiction recovery care program can vary, but many include medically monitored detoxification, group therapy, one-on-one therapy, and life skills courses. (10)

Behavioral Addiction Recovery 

Behavioral addictions differ from drug and alcohol addictions in that individuals are addicted to the feelings brought on by behaviors rather than drugs or alcohol. Some examples of behavioral addictions include compulsive gambling, excessive online shopping, and compulsive video gaming and internet use. 

One unique similarity between drug and alcohol addictions and behavioral addictions is withdrawal. When an individual is withdrawing from drugs or alcohol, they may experience physical symptoms as the chemicals leave their bodies. Some studies have shown that individuals with behavioral addictions can also suffer from withdrawal. 

At present, there are no standardized solutions for diagnosing individuals with behavioral addictions. However, there are ways for individuals to treat and manage the compulsive behaviors behind the addictions. (11) Some treatment options for behavioral addictions are similar to those for drug and alcohol addictions, and they can include:

How to Cope With Addiction & Addiction Recovery 

Coping with addiction and addiction recovery takes patience, perseverance, and acceptance. Whether a person is years into recovery or still struggling with active addiction, it's important to follow the mantra of "one day at a time." Taking life a day at a time can help individuals stay present and focused as they navigate through the peaks and valleys of their healing journeys.

Attending recovery meetings and working with counselors and therapists are also helpful ways to cope with addiction and addiction recovery. Recovery meetings allow individuals to receive support from others in similar situations, while therapy helps people with addictions heal in a safe setting. 

How to Help Someone in Addiction Recovery 

When helping someone in addiction recovery, it's important to have patience and understand that recovery is a lifelong process. The individual may experience setbacks, and supporting them during these times is essential. However, the reality of addiction is that it has the power to affect not only the person engaging in the addictive behaviors, but also everyone in their circle.

Groups such as SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous provide support to friends, partners, and family members of people struggling with substance use and other addictions. (12) Speaking with others who can relate can provide people with the support and tools they need to be strong and present for their loved ones going through the addiction and recovery process.

Welcome to the Addiction Recovery topic center

This topic center provides information on:

  1. About Recovery.
  2. Models of Recovery.
  3. Entering & Staying in Recovery.

If going through treatment for addiction isn’t hard enough, remaining in recovery can be an incredibly difficult, heroic task. Whether one chooses to remain completely sober or use drugs in moderation, the potential to relapse seems continuously omnipresent. Individuals in recovery must pay extra careful attention to their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and environments on their journey to lasting wellness. If you have come to this section because you or someone you know is in recovery, give yourself a pat on the back (or a hug). You're doing great and your efforts will yield benefits.

Depending on your unique history, personality, and preferences, different forms of support will be helpful in recovery. Here are a few quick options to consider:

  • You may feel drawn towards a 12-Step or other spiritually-based approach. Look for an AA, NA, MA, or GA, or other “anonymous” group in your area. You can use our Meeting Finder to find a group near you.
  • Perhaps you are more interested in a secular or self-empowerment recovery group. Do an internet search for groups like SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, or LifeRing Secular Recovery in your area.
  • You could seek out a sober living facility in your area, where you live with like-minded individuals also in recovery.
  • Some people feel most comfortable pursuing recovery without treatment or a support group. This is completely OK- in fact, people beat addictions on their own all of the time. How many people do you know who stopped smoking cigarettes on their own? What about people who receive opioid medications after a surgery- don't they mostly quit by themselves, too?
  • Consider picking up a good book on beating addiction or staying in recovery. Search the internet for inspiring videos, online support groups, and other resources in your area.

Whether you choose to pursue recovery with or without an organized treatment or recovery group, it is always helpful to seek the help of friends, family members, or other individuals that can support you. Stripping away all of the acronyms, amenities, and types of therapy that exist, most would agree that the essential ingredient to success is the support of your fellow human beings.

In this topic center, you’ll find pages on different theories of sustaining recovery, for example from an evolutionary perspective or a public health model. You’ll also find useful tips, such as how to manage heroin withdrawal, handling anxiety after quitting Xanax, or sustaining a relationship where alcohol was involved.

Use the side bar to navigate through these articles.

If you are looking for information on addiction treatment, rather than information on maintaining recovery, visit our Addiction Treatment topic center.


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