10 Guiding Principles for Maturity and “Natural Recovery” 

The idea of addiction as inevitably a lifetime burden is a myth. In fact, most people resolve addictions over time and most do so without professional or support-group help. 

We know this because the American government’s own data tells us so. A massive study carried out by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in which 43,000 Americans were interviewed about their lifetime substance use (called NESARC) found that people overwhelmingly overcome drug and alcohol dependencies (their terms for addiction and alcoholism) over the course of their lives: 

  • 84% in the case of nicotine (smoking)
  • 91% for alcohol
  • 97% for cannabis (marijuana)
  • 99% for cocaine

In a separate analysis conducted by NESARC, of subjects who had ever abused or been dependent on a prescription drug (including sedatives, tranquilizers, stimulants, and opioids) over their lifetime, 96 percent remitted for all the substances combined, with half the cases remitting between four and five years from the onset of the drug problem. 

What does all of this mean? In short: people simply rarely spend their entire lives addicted. 

Natural Recovery 

There is a clinical term for the phenomenon of overcoming addiction without professional help: “Natural Recovery.”

Given that natural recovery is the norm (as demonstrated above), how is it possible that we hardly ever hear about natural recovery? One reason is that recovery is so commonplace that we don’t think anything about it! 

Many more 20-somethings misuse and become dependent on drugs and alcohol than 50-year-olds. Most of us — including those with substance problems — will grow up, get jobs, and create families. In the course of this maturing process, we usually leave our addictions behind. Everyone knows and accepts that most mature parents lead sensible lives. But rarely reflect on what those 50-year-olds’ lives looked like when they were young people in their 20s.

The absence of serious drug and alcohol problems among most mature adults, even people who formerly had a major drug or alcohol habit, just doesn’t surprise us. Occasionally, people do develop later-life addictions (which we can’t help but notice), but for the rest, the absence of addictive behavior has just become who they are. People grow up, become normalized, and settle down emotionally, concentrating on jobs and careers, responsibility for their families and their children, and whatever other positive paths their lives take. This is the natural process of recovery to which we rarely give a second thought.

This common process invokes a different way of thinking about addiction than we are used to — that it is an illness that must be treated in a hospital or 12-step group. So from the disease standpoint natural recovery seems like a miracle. Yet, if you think about it, you’ll see this isn’t a true picture of most people’s lives.

Guiding the Natural Recovery Process 

Some who quit an addictive drug habit take decades to do so. And unfortunately, some people never do achieve the stability in their lives required to overcome destructive addiction cycles. Even though this is a minority of people, we of course must be aware of the special circumstances these people face. We can then understand the assistance they need and common sense ways of providing it.

To start with, these people aren’t helped when they are treated as though they are “diseased” and are unable to leave addiction behind. They (and everyone) can achieve a non-addicted, balanced life, even if some people require more help to get to this point than others. 

In the Life Process Program, we emphasize 10 principles around natural recovery that lead people to create personal paths to overcome addiction. These paths include both recovery in the long term as well as here-and-now efforts to change — whether it is on one’s own, through a group, or with the help of a coaching program like LPP. 

These ten tasks of living are achievable for virtually every human being.

The Life Process Program’s 10 Guiding Principles

  1. Recognize that addiction isn’t a lifetime disease.
  2. Develop the skills needed to gain life rewards.
  3. Resolve emotional problems and become less anxious, depressed, and afraid.
  4. Don’t lose sight of — in fact, build on — your existing strengths.
  5. Develop further skills and life assets — such as forming a family, finding satisfying work, gaining life security and the respect of others, and so on. These are attributes you won’t readily give up once you achieve them.
  6. Become engaged in relationships of all kinds, from friendships to deeper intimacies, and become part of a larger community.
  7. Look for positive options in life — this includes having fun, seeking manageable adventure, and finding deeper meaning.
  8. Mature beyond looking at the world strictly in terms of your own needs to accept obligations to others and the satisfaction this entails.
  9. Gain and relish being in control of your life — what we call a sense of personal agency — so that you are optimistic that you can get what you need in the world.
  10. Affirm — keep front and center — what you value and your purpose in life so as to eliminate addiction from your life.

These fundamentals are simple enough to understand, even as they may at times seem difficult to attain. Nevertheless, they (not addiction treatment) are what true recovery from addiction is built upon. These are, as we say in our name, natural “life processes.”. 

In the most recent episode of the LPP Podcast, we spoke with a man named Daniel Snyder who outgrew his heroin addiction by adopting personal responsibility for his life. He did so despite being temporarily stymied by disease-centered addiction treatment programs and 12-step groups. Daniel’s story tells us that standard addiction treatment often does more harm than good. But adopting personal responsibility and seeking self-actualization, however this occurs for you, always leads to positive results. 

In this process there will be setbacks, even cul-de-sacs. Such deviations from perfection, while regrettable, aren’t to be rejected as things you despise about yourself or your life . Instead you should try to avoid repeating these off-ramps while accepting them as part of your complex existence and complete self. 

If you follow the ten life-channels we’ve listed, we know that you can achieve the balance you need to mature out of your addiction — or not to become addicted at all. You will do this by becoming involved with life so fully that there is no place for addiction in it. 

Perhaps instead of calling it “natural recovery” we should simply view it as becoming who you are! 

This state of being is your mature self. Maturity means having a secure adult identity — one that causes a person (this is you) to see themselves as a capable, potent, contributing member of society with responsibilities toward loved ones and others. Achieving this state is the best protection against addiction. 

In this sense, the Life Process Program is not an addiction treatment program. We are a coaching program that helps you (and all of our participants) deal with life head-on, with purpose, meaning, and joy — so you may become the true, mature person you are meant to be. And, you will do this on your own terms. It isn’t a “gift” from us.

Or, if you like: The Life Process Program helps people — you — experience their and your own “natural recovery”!

 

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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