After an individual has been through the initial detoxification stage of their recovery, the most important thing for that person is to allow their body chemistry to regain its balance both mentally and physically. This is where treatment comes in. Essentially, “treatment focuses on educating the addict about the disease concept of addiction.” (Inaba/Cohen) This, in turn, allows the client after detox to begin work with a primary counselor, allowing themselves to learn more about their specific addiction based on the disease model as well as developing and revising a treatment plan to accomplish goals set at the detoxification level. While this gives us a somewhat comprehensive glance at the treatment process or the second phase of a person’s journey of recovery, we need to focus on this idea of abstinence, viewing it as somewhat of a practical cornerstone of recovery.

Like with a detox program, addiction recovery programs cannot begin nor continue without abstinence. That is why once an individual’s brain chemistry normalizes, continued abstinence becomes key. Most clinicians believe that “continued abstinence during this phase is best promoted by addressing both the continuous cravings for drugs and the aspects of the addict’s life that may present a risk of relapse.” (Inaba/Cohen). It is in this vein that we begin to recognize one of the key components which challenges initial abstinence; cravings.

Abstinence and Recovery: Preventing Cravings

There are two ways to look at cravings, one as intrinsic, such as with PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) and one as environmentally triggered. These symptoms begin in the early stages of abstinence and also continue on to later stages of treatment. (Inaba/Cohen). Symptoms of PAWS vary from substance to substance, as well as from person to person, and consequently, can respond to environmentally triggered cravings, such as old places, people, and things. These things can stay with the client for a very long time, as mentioned previously, and almost always pose one of the greatest threats to continued sobriety.

This relates back to the chemical rebalancing of an individual’s brain during the initial detox phase. Continued use of medical approaches such as psychotherapy and medication continue to combat drug cravings by suppressing or reversing the pleasurable effects of substances prove to be extremely useful in combating these cravings. (Inaba/Cohen)

Once the individual learns to prevent these cravings, the addict is able to enter the long-term abstinence phase. This includes practicing a sense of acceptance over his or her addiction. Furthermore, the addict must view their disease as a chemical dependency.

These aspects enable clients to reach various stages of abstinence. However, recovery itself doesn’t come from being confined to a treatment center. Rather, an enforcement of a positive and healthy lifestyle allows an individual to reach success outside of treatment. Essentially, a person must restore self-esteem and repair prior emotional, social and psychological damage. This, of course, involves a lot of work on the individual’s part, which requires support.

Abstinence and Recovery at Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail Recovery doesn’t make the claim that clients are  “cured” after treatment. It’s our goal to strengthen their resources and to ensure them there’s a clean and sober lifestyle ahead. These valuable tools will, in turn, allow the client to live a joyous life. -J. Dalton Williams



Inaba, Darryl S. Cohen, William E. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. 8th ed. CNS Productions, INC. 2014.