Addiction Recovery Is Not a Linear Process

February 18, 2013 Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

Some say addiction recovery occurs in a straight line. However, addiction relapse can often be a part of the addiction recovery process.

When I look back over my time in addiction recovery, it would seem that this process was linear. In other words, it would appear that there was some kind of flow that provided me with a sense of well-being and confidence that I would no longer have to worry about picking up a drink or drug again. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality, for me, is that recovery from addiction rarely occurs in a straight line.

The Reality of Addiction Recovery and Relapse

For instance, I would say that for many addicts, drug and alcohol relapse is a part of the process of recovery from addiction. Unfortunately this can be extremely painful and often does significant damage to the addict’s life. But as it says in recovery literature, “There may be times when a relapse lays the groundwork for complete freedom.” (Recovery and Relapse, Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text). So what does this mean? Well, when you think about it, a drug or alcohol relapse can sometimes be a part of “hitting bottom” for the individual. I have seen this happen in many people’s lives, including my own.

The idea of a relapse also brings with it a certain level of fear for many. You know, the “What if’s?” What if I lose my job, my family, my things? For me the fear of relapse was tied into my mental health. I was afraid of losing my mind, for good. Having a history of bipolar disorder, I was terrified of the never ending revolving door of psych hospitalizations that I was inevitably facing unless I abstained from alcohol and drugs. Yes, fear can be a good thing. It can motivate us to make the necessary changes in our lives to bring about a healthy way of living.

The Inward Journey of Addiction Recovery

So for me, addiction recovery hasn’t been so much linear as it has been a spiral, in an inward sense. The longer I stay clean, the more I learn about myself. And after 25 years, I’m still learning. And that’s the beauty. When I consider the times when it would have been so easy to throw in the towel and give in to the drugs I realize that I have been given a real gift.

Sometimes recovery can be a downright rollercoaster of emotions, but that’s okay. Just being able to feel is a blessing. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2013, February 18). Addiction Recovery Is Not a Linear Process, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

February, 19 2013 at 1:02 pm

Thanks for saying fear can be a good thing, a motivator. I read and hear lots of stuff about embracing, accepting, etc, addiction. I can't see how doing that helps. Besides, for me it would be dishonest. I don't like being a porn addict and I don't accept it as my fate. I keep fighting, though as you say relapses are all too real.

February, 18 2013 at 7:47 pm

wish i could share in your insight-i would REALLY like to get clean & get back on my meds,but my mental illness&addiction are like a viscious cycle that im caught in. i fantisize abput what it would be like to be sober AND happy. good reading tho,thank you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 19 2013 at 2:30 am

Suzie - it is possible to break the cycle you are in. It takes a great deal of work though. Formal addictions treatment and self-help can get the process started. Also, staying away from those people, places, and things associated with drug use is a must. The bottom line is to never give up hope. I wish you the best in achieving the life you are searching for.

Leave a reply