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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness


Recovery and how to keep strong:

 alcohol, drugs and gambling

Diane Goslar, Service User, Royal College of Psychiatrists


This leaflet is for patients, carers and anyone else who would like to find out more about:

  • what recovery is (in my case recovery from alcohol dependence)
  • what it means
  • how to stay strong to overcome your dependence

What is meant by recovery?

What does 'recovery' mean to you? Do you have a fixed description of it in your mind?

Perhaps for you it's the process after injury, the healing phase which, having successfully come to an end, enables life to continues as before - you've recovered.

For recovery from addiction, it's different. Recovery means dealing with a dependence, such as alcohol, drugs or gambling, so that it does not take control of you again.

It's not like most other diseases or medical problems - the problem is never fixed. There is no cure and it is for life. That can be very depressing, but while it's easy to lose the will to continue, it is really worthwhile to stick at it and you will also feel better about yourself.

Recovery is in your hands only

You have to do it yourself; no-one can do it for you. It's quite useless (indeed often counter-productive) if someone tries to 'enforce' recovery on you. You have to be extremely self-motivated. The people in your social groups probably won't understand what you're doing because they don't see the problem. More importantly, they won't understand because you may well not have told them about your dependence as you are too embarrassed to do so. We all want to be accepted and to fit in. This can be very hard in the early stages of recovery, but sharing your goals and struggles with others certainly helps.

Recovery needs support

In recovery, you really need support on several levels: your family, your friends, your workplace, your GP, just to mention a few. And this support needs to be on-going because recovery never ends. It seems that it is understood that support is essential during treatment and immediately afterwards. But then you may be left to get on with it, with no support structure in place - and that is probably one of the reasons that so many people in recovery relapse.

So you will need to find a person or group of people with whom you feel at ease to turn to when things are difficult. In the case of alcohol abuse, many recovering alcoholics use Alcoholics Anonymous for this. In fact, there are 12-step support groups for all addictions. Others keep in touch with people who have gone through the treatment process at the same time. The important point is to have regular meetings, whether they are weekly or monthly.

Recovery needs structure

You are likely to find that you miss your addiction greatly and that you will be reminded of it constantly. There are temptations around us much of the time, in my case in our alcohol-fuelled society - TV, advertising, cinema and in our everyday speech. Then there are those well-meaning people who say "surely just one wouldn't hurt ..."

Taking part in new interesting activities will help you fill the void created by the removal of whichever dependence you are recovering from. You also need a structure to deal with those 'temptations'. A good start is to have a number of rules. As part of my own recovery from alcohol, my rules are:

  • I will never touch a bottle or glass of alcohol, either to pass it on or to service it out. My friends have to help themselves to an alcoholic drink.
  • I will not give alcohol as a gift.
  • I do not want to know where the alcohol is kept in our house (if indeed there is any alcohol in our house).

Recovery needs constant attention

Everyone tries  and experiences recovery in their own way. As I have said, my own addiction is alcohol, and one of the most important aspects to my recovery is by avoiding drinking alcohol inadvertently or by mistake. This can happen when it is in food, so you need to constantly check to see if there is any alcohol in the food you are buying or eating. You may also need to check whether anything you eat or drink for religious observance contains alcohol (for example, communion wine). Discuss this with your religious leader - most times there are non-alcoholic substitutes and non-alcoholic wine provided.

Recovery and socialising

Alcohol is everywhere and when you can't drink, you feel excluded from a large part of social activity. If your social group of friends drink alcohol, not drinking may make you feel like an outsider. For example, it's difficult to celebrate or commiserate without alcohol. There is also a stigma attached to being alcohol-dependent (which is one reason why you may not wish to tell everyone about your alcohol problem). This feeling of being outside the group can make you feel different from the people you are with, as they happily share a bottle. All you want is to be one of them, look the same, enjoy the same feelings, be part of the set. This is probably one of the hardest things to deal with, and you may have to decide whether to stick with your old friends or find new ones.

Recovery is worthwhile

Dealing with all the issues we've talked about it tough, but there is no doubt at all that it is worthwhile - it's worth the work, the organising, the determination. Because most importantly, you will find that you have your mind back. You will be able to hold your own in the world again. You will find that you have recovered your life, your intellect, your sense of fulfilment and your feeling of worth in society.

Worthwhile fighting to keep those things wouldn't you say?

My rules for my recovery plan

Keep this leaflet in a safe place. You never know if you or someone you care about might need it.

  • Write your feelings down.
  • Keep yourself busy.
  • Do something to help someone else. Nothing feels quite as good as knowing you have a purpose in life.
  • Do take any support, professional and otherwise, that you can.
  • Keep a reminder of the people or things you love on your mobile, or in your wallet or purse. Some people also like to carry photos of people or animals that mean a lot to them.
  • Write down what your special rules are to keep yourself safe from your dependence or problem.

With thanks to Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones for her help and support.

July 2014

Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our FAQ for advice on getting help.

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