The Fourth Stage Of Recovery – Ongoing Lifelong Recovery

When you decide to enter a professional alcohol and drug treatment program either community or residential based, you will begin a journey through four distinct stages of recovery as you learn to develop a method to go through life clean and sober whilst being able to manage change, stress, loss and success in a positive, productive way rather than a substance (destructive) based coping strategy.

The four stages of rehab described here: Treatment Initiation, Early Abstinence, Maintaining Abstinence and finally Advanced Recovery were developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for its “An Individual Drug Counselling Approach to Treat Addiction”. However it is understandable that these stages are not always clear and confined and you may find yourself sitting between one or more stages at a time. This is normal as everyone is different. The main thing to keep in mind is that the key concepts of each stage should (we recommend) be adhered to so that you can manage difficulties more easily than before.

In this model, recovery is a lifelong process as also described in the NA (Narcotics Anonymous), AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and CA (Cocaine Anonymous) models of recovery. There are many types of Recovery model, all evolving around a key concept however the Abstinence-based recovery model is the most commonly recommended and the most effective, healthy, productive and achievable model according to many studies by key universities, charities and lead voices within the addiction and recovery communities.

Stage 1: Treatment Initiation 

When you reach out for help from a professional residential drug and alcohol rehab, community based program or help from your GP, you begin the first stage of your recovery, initiation of treatment. More information about this stage can be found in our other articles found on our blog.

Whether you seek help voluntarily or you are forced by circumstances such as criminal prosecution to enter rehab, your recovery process will begin with a professional treatment program.

In the early hours and days of your rehab, you probably will have some ambivalent feelings about giving up your drug or alcohol of choice permanently and you may think that your substance abuse/addiction problem is not as bad as others. Beware. Ambivalence and denial can be your worst enemies in the first days of your recovery.

Stage 2: Early Abstinence 

Once you have made a commitment to continue treatment for your substance abuse/addiction problem, you will enter the second stage of rehab known as early Abstinence. This can be the toughest stage to cope with because of many factors, including continued withdrawal symptoms, physical cravings, psychological dependence, and a host of other triggers can tempt you into a relapse.

It is during this early abstinence stage that your Keyworker will begin to teach you the coping skills that you need to begin to lead a clean and sober lifestyle. The tools that you learn to use now will help you throughout your recovery and the rest of your life.

Stage 3: Maintaining Abstinence 

After approximately 90 days of continuous abstinence, you will move from the early abstinence stage of recovery to the third stage, maintaining abstinence. If you started in a residential treatment program, you will now move to the continuing or follow-up counselling phase of your rehab program on an outpatient basis or will continue to work with your Keyworker to slowly reduce any substitution medication you may be on. This will be done slowly to reduce any feeling of withdrawal however some discomfort may still be felt when you get down towards a small dose of your medication.

One focus of this stage of your rehab or recovery is obviously to maintain abstinence by avoiding a relapse. You will learn the warning signs and triggers that can cause you to relapse, the follow up steps that can lead up to a relapse before you actually do relapse and what to do if you feel this may be happening to you to avoid a relapse all together.

Also during this stage of your rehabilitation, you will learn to put the tools that you learned in early abstinence to use in other areas of your life so that you can continue to live a truly clean and sober lifestyle. You will discover that your future quality of life depends on more than simply not using or drinking.

You will learn new coping skills and tools to help you build healthy relationships, develop a drug and alcohol free lifestyle, manage anger and negative feelings, utilise exercise, meditation, mindfulness and nutrition , learn employment and money management skills, and avoid substituting one substance for another.

The maintaining abstinence stage of rehab or recovery will begin at about three months (or thereabouts) into your rehabilitation program and last until you reach approximately five years clean and sober, at which time the follow-up counselling will usually terminate however continued attendance at AA, NA or CA is highly recommended throughout your life. It is possible to relapse years after you stop using or drinking so continued attendance will help you avoid a relapse and help you identify if you are about to relapse.

Stage 4: Advanced Recovery 

After approximately five years of abstinence, you will reach the fourth and final stage of your rehab: advanced recovery. It is that this point that you take all the tools and skills that you have learned during your rehab counselling or work with community Keyworker a and put them to use living a satisfying, healthy and fulfilling life.

Not only will you able to remain clean and sober, but you will also have the skills to become a healthier person, a better spouse and parent, a productive member of society, and a good neighbor and citizen. Recovery is much more than merely staying clean and sober. It’s learning to live well, make healthy choices and enjoy each day!


It is easy to become complacent which can lead to a relapse. It’s important to continue your recovery journey continuously throughout your entire life while (we recommend) continuing to attend NA, AA, CA ect and actively look to identify triggers or warning signs so that you can identify any complications that may arise and cause you to relapse. COMPLACENCY HAS AND WILL KILL IF NOT KEPT IN CHECK!

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

One thought on “The Fourth Stage Of Recovery – Ongoing Lifelong Recovery

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: