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The First Step; Overcoming Addiction

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The First Step; Overcoming Addiction

By Simone Arbour/Research Scientist, Ontario Shores

The original twelve-step program is almost 100 years old. It was authored by the first Alcoholics Anonymous group and is still in use today. Today, many groups, helping those battling other addictions, including drugs and gambling, have adopted and adapted this successful formula for taking back your life. Even though the steps often change, the theme of the first step, The First Step, rarely changes. “I am powerless over my addiction”

This is a powerful place to start in any recovery. It’s not to tell others, but to actually admit to yourself that you have a problem…and need help. There really is no other place to start.

The problem is, most of those suffering don’t even get to The First Step.

A recent survey conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada reveals, not surprisingly, that mental health and substance use was negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a third of Canadians sampled, who consumed alcohol, reported an increase in their substance use during the pandemic with over 20% reporting this use as problematic. What’s more, most of this group, seventy-five percent, did not seek treatment. The reasons vary, from stigma to difficulty accessing programs.

The road to recovery with any addiction can literally be a thousand miles. This once again confirms for us that nothing else is as important as The First Step. Acknowledging the issue is the cornerstone of positive change, and it opens the door to a healthier, more fulfilling life.        

What might be needed is a twelve-step program that presents realistic and achievable goals. With this in mind, allow me to present some of what I have seen work laid out in twelve steps. You will notice that The First Step is familiar but vital.

1 Recognition and Acceptance: (The First Step once again)       
It all starts with recognizing that there is a concern with substance use. This acknowledgment is not a sign of weakness but a powerful act of self-awareness and courage. Acceptance paves the way for positive change.  

2 Set Clear and Achievable Goals:       
Establishing clear and achievable goals is essential. Break down larger objectives into smaller, manageable steps, providing a roadmap for progress. These goals will serve as milestones on the journey to recovery.  Some may opt to reduce their substance to while others may decide to abstain altogether. It’s important to be realistic about what to expect.

3 Seek Support:       
You don't have to face this challenge alone. Reach out to friends, family, or a support network that can provide encouragement and accountability. Consider joining a support group or attending meetings where individuals share their experiences. Connecting with others facing similar challenges fosters a sense of community and understanding. A strong support system is a valuable asset in the recovery process.  Sometimes there is a considerable amount of shame in admitting problematic substance use.  Reaching out to someone who cares about you will lessen these feelings. Substance use has increased for many individuals over the pandemic.  Sharing your experiences may afford others to let down their guard and realize they too are willing to seek out and provide support for substance use.

4 Professional Guidance:       
Consider seeking professional assistance from healthcare providers, counselors, or addiction specialists. They offer personalized guidance, support, and resources tailored to your specific situation, enhancing your chances of success.  The system is often difficult to navigate.  If and when possible, engaging one’s Employee Assistance Program can be a manageable first step.

5 Educate Yourself:       
Knowledge is a powerful tool in the journey to recovery. Educate yourself about the substance you're using and its potential effects on physical and mental health. Understanding the risks strengthens your commitment to change.

6 Create a Personalized Plan:       
Develop a personalized plan for addressing substance use. This plan should include strategies for coping with cravings, managing triggers, and finding healthier alternatives. A well-thought-out plan increases the likelihood of success.

7 Remove Triggers:       
Identify and minimize exposure to situations, places, or people that may trigger substance use. Creating a supportive environment is crucial for positive change and recovery.  Consider “rehabilitating” your social media contacts.  Only engage those who make you feel good about yourself.

8 Adopt Healthy Coping Mechanisms:       
Explore and adopt alternative coping mechanisms for stress and emotions. Engaging in activities such as exercise, meditation, art, or hobbies can be powerful tools in managing the challenges of recovery.  Consider which stressors are under your control and can be lessened by action; and which ones aren’t and ascertain how to reframe or cope with them.  

9 Keep a Journal:       
Document your thoughts, feelings, and progress in a journal. Tracking your journey provides valuable insights, helps you stay accountable, and serves as a source of motivation during difficult times.

10 Celebrate Small Victories:       
Acknowledge and celebrate small victories along the way. Recognizing progress, no matter how modest, boosts confidence and reinforces your commitment to change.

11 Take Care of Your Physical Health:       
Prioritize self-care by ensuring you get adequate sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity. A healthy lifestyle positively impacts your ability to cope with stress and supports the recovery process.

12  Be Patient and Compassionate:       
Understand that change takes time, and setbacks may occur. Be patient and compassionate with yourself during this journey. Every step forward is a triumph worth celebrating.

Remember, taking The First Step is a profound act of self-love and resilience. With commitment, support, and the right resources, recovery is not only possible but within reach. You are not alone, and your journey to a healthier, happier life begins with that first courageous step.


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