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What are Realistic Expectations in Recovery?

by Will Long

May 30, 2022
A man and woman sit in meeting room, talking about addiction recovery.

Landmark Recovery offers a realistic look at addiction treatment

Depictions of rehab and recovery in movies and TV shows (aside from some lightly scripted reality shows) show the process as an “easy hero’s journey.” Hollywood may have us believe that it’s easy to overcome an addiction, or that all it takes is one heroic effort to suddenly become the person you want to be. Many sitcoms make it seem like people can neutralize an addiction in just a few days, or simply by going through detox. This could lead people who need addiction treatment to have an unrealistic impression of the recovery process.

landmark recovery man in therapy

Examples of unrealistic thinking

Here are some examples of unrealistic thinking when entering treatment and why they simply aren’t true:

Your recovery journey will be relentlessly positive

Recovery is very rarely an upward trendline for everyone going through it. You will almost certainly experience life’s peaks and valleys as you fight to regain control over your life. But much like the stock market, the overall trend is ever-upward among the continuously varying journey. The key is understanding what it takes to deal with cravings and triggers that could lead to a relapse.

You will feel amazing every step of the way

Many movies and shows make it seem like once you go through detox you’ll come out feeling great and ready to take on the world. In reality not everyone who enters rehab will be doing so with gusto. It’s important to understand that the emotions of someone going through recovery are likely to be a maelstrom. Those who suffer from depleted dopamine after detox may experience negative emotions for a long time. Many people suffering from addiction also deal with depression. Sometimes the negative feelings that crop up every now and then never go away. Detoxing, in particular, is usually tough and requires medical observation and may also involve the use of medication to help with withdrawal symptoms. We believe that any patient who comes to us can make it through the process and can therefore recover from their addiction. The physiological process of detox and rehab back-to-back can feel awful for the most part.

Your problems will magically fix themselves once you leave rehab

If you were suffering from marital or financial problems before you went to rehab these issues are not going to suddenly fix themselves because you’ve stopped abusing substances. Recovery offers you a way to think more clearly, be present during important moments of life and better handle the stress that comes from relationships, work or being a parent. You have to take time and put in effort to fix what you can after you exit rehab. There will be an emotional difficult side of your recovery journey as you clean up the fallout from the events that lead you to the moment you entered treatment. You shouldn’t expect everything to line up once you leave a rehab center.

You won’t ever want to use another drug again and you won’t relapse

It’s extremely likely you will relapse, at least once. Do not let that be a discouragement. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed and can’t maintain recovery. More than half of the people who try to stop using drugs or alcohol experience a relapse. Maybe addiction experts see relapse as a normal part of the recovery process. Because you started the rehab process, your outcomes after a relapse should be far better as well. The actual relapse rate is around 40-60% for those who seek substance use disorder treatment after their first time in rehab.

It’s important to set realistic expectations

It’s imperative for all patients to set realistic expectations and learn how to turn the disappointment from mistakes into resilience and antifragility. One of the best approaches to this is to learn to expect disappointment so you can be prepared for it. Maintaining unrealistic expectations will only ever lead to negative feelings when things don’t turn out perfect for those in recovery.

Don’t let “failure” discourage you

Don’t let this discourage you from reaching out and trying again! There are treatment methods and paths you can take that will dramatically lessen the odds of you relapsing or slipping. These include sober living homes, making sure you complete the entire rehab stay at your doctor’s behest, and maintaining a therapy schedule. Continue going to therapy after rehab is finished. If you relapse, you are not a failure. This is simply a speedbump on the path to a lasting recovery.

For some, assuming the worst outcome allows them to mentally prepare for anything that comes their way, partly because they built mental walls to guard against negative occurrences. This is one strategy for developing an antifragile mindset, or a mindset that allows individuals to cope with things that might bring them down.

Perceived failure might lead to relapse, but you didn’t fail

Relapse itself can be a result of unreasonable expectations that you felt you couldn’t meet. The reality of relapsing is that most of those who seek out treatment for an addiction fall prey to a relapse an average of 50% of the time. Addiction is a legitimately tough thing to overcome from a psychological perspective. Decoupling yourself from the chemical, mental, and emotional aspects of substance use disorder is very difficult but achievable if you persevere through the process.

Instead of thinking of relapse as a failure itself, think of it more as a detour on your journey. Recovery is a process by which you learn how and why you suffered from substance use disorder and ways to maintain your recovery once you graduate from a treatment center. Ensuring that you remain flexible while in recovery is a big part of being able to roll with the punches. Take your time in recovery and map out your goals. Realize and understand that recovery is not a straight path from point A to point B—it’s a journey that winds through all sorts of obstacles that makes you a stronger person on the other side if you’re prepared to deal with them and can handle the detours that pop up in your path.

Landmark Recovery is dedicated to improving the outcomes of rehab in every patient that participates in our programs. We believe that patients who set realistic expectations achieve the best outcomes and usually put the most effort in towards having a successful recovery journey. We provide outpatient, inpatient, and partial hospitalization treatment depending on the condition and medical needs of each patient and ensure that there are resources available for all patients both during and after rehab. Making sure you’ve found the right match for what it takes to get you in recovery is incredibly important for increasing your odds of maintaining recovery once the process has begun.

How does Landmark Recovery handle the process of detox and treatment?

Patients or their families will speak to an admissions specialist to ask questions or learn more about the admissions process. Once both parties come to a mutual understanding on all questions, patients will then enter the treatment center. This is where patients begin the intake process. Basic information about the patient is gathered at this time. The patients will then be orientated on the rehab process and rules.

Medical staff will evaluate patients during the intake process to determine their condition and then make medical recommendations based on their determination what treatment path is best for the patient. Doctors will then build a personal profile for the patient so they can track their treatment and progress throughout their time with us.

Inpatient rehab patients are required to check themselves in, while outpatient rehab patients don’t have to. We require that, pending a doctor’s recommendation, all patients suffering from heavy addictions go through inpatient rehab. This is a firm recommendation we make to properly monitor the medical condition of those detoxing and participating in therapy and counseling. Inpatient rehab is required for those who can’t pass a drug test while participating in outpatient rehab.

After detoxing is finished, patients will then spend 30-45 days taking part in the residential program. While staying at the rehab center, multiple types of therapy will be provided along with recreational time to focus on the self. Once patients finish their residential treatment with us, we provide them with access to continued support through alumni programs and weekly therapy sessions at no cost.

Learn more about Landmark Recovery

To learn more about how Landmark Recovery can help you achieve the most positive outcome in your recovery journey, give us a call at 888-448-0302 today to speak with a dedicated admissions specialist. At Landmark, we encourage all patients to remain in treatment until the end of their treatment period is officially over and provide a free weekly therapy session to all graduates. Our national alumni program helps keep those in recovery connected so they can stay in touch and encourage each other along the way. Unlock your potential with Landmark Recovery as we seek to fulfill our mission of saving one million lives by the end of the century.

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About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Long has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. He specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective. Unearthing information from underexplored, far-flung corners of the Internet, Long’s passion is finding emerging trends in substance use and treatment that the public should know about.