What Is The First Step In Treating Addiction?

What is the first step in treating addiction? Is it getting help, or admitting that you have a problem in the first place?

Is it the moment when you realize you no longer need the substance you abused?

For everyone, recovery looks a little different, and the journey is never the same. The first step in treating addiction, however, is a little more common.

The team at Red River Health Center in Pineville, LA see it all the time: the first step. Even taking baby steps towards recovery, taking the first step is the most important part of treating addiction.

What is the First Step in Treating Addiction?

Many people wonder what is the first step in treating addiction, and they start thinking about what the individual goes through once they’re in the rehab facility. That, however, is far past the first step in treating addiction.

They may go as far back as the intervention, or personal discussions with the individual about how they’ve developed an addiction. (1) At this point, the individual is in a pre-contemplative stage, and may not fully admit that they have a problem.

Before staging an intervention to encourage them to seek treatment, it’s a good idea to just talk to them one-on-one to not scare them or make them run, shut-down or to feel like they are bad.

– Huffpost

The real first step in treating addiction is when the individual admits that they have a problem and opens up to seeking treatment for the addiction. For this to happen, they have to realize a motivation for getting sober, understand that they have an addiction, and be willing to work for sobriety.

This requires a healthy and supportive space to express their feelings without blame language or too much outside opinion; for many individuals, this is where therapy and counseling become a lifeline, but for others, it can start with friends and family members.

Signs of Healthy Progress

Healthy signs of progress in treating addiction may include better decision-making skills, willingness to engage more in social situations, hopefulness, and continually longer periods without substance abuse until the individual reaches full sobriety.

Small improvements of mind, body, and spirit are another step towards sobriety.

Relapse Isn’t Failure

It’s important to remember during treatment that relapse is not failure. Relapse is a sign of progress; the individual must be working towards getting sober to be able to relapse.

While a complete victory is often considered maintaining full sobriety, relapse means that they are working towards that goal and that progress should be celebrated.

Why Admitting The Problem is So Important

Admitting the problem is a huge step forward in addiction recovery. Often, it is the hardest step before detoxification. Not only does admitting the problem take a large amount of courage and vulnerability to address, but it harbors a lot of fear around social rejection that might occur around the admission.

By admitting the problem, however, individuals can recognize that they need help and begin seeking treatment now that they are open to the idea of getting help for their substance abuse.

What Loved Ones Can Do to Make the Process Easier

More than anything, loved ones should be careful not to assign blame to the individual for falling into the addiction.

Provide love and support to the individual that does not encourage their addiction, but allows them to express how they feel about it and learn that talking to you or a group of loved ones is a safe experience that they can take comfort in. The individual needs to understand that it’s good and acceptable to ask for help, and that they are supported and loved throughout their struggle.

What Are the Early Signs of Addiction?

The early signs of addiction or substance abuse can be difficult to pinpoint for some individuals. You may not even realize that you are seeing these signs already.

If you notice yourself or a loved one going through these signs, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. The earlier it is addressed, the higher chance of successful and fast recovery.

Early signs of addiction include using alcohol or drugs to relax. Recurring mood swings, depressive episodes, or irritability can occur, especially during the withdrawal of the substance.

Inability to recall actions or experiences during their time drinking or repeated conflicts with individuals around them are also important signs to look for.

There Are Different Levels of Severity

When it comes to addiction, there are different levels of severity and an individual may be enrolled in a more or less intensive treatment program based on the severity level they are evaluated under.

This scale is known as the DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition) and is used by practices throughout the United States for evaluating the severity of substance abuse and to help them understand the level of dependency they have acquired through use.

  1. Impaired Control

Impaired control is the first level of addiction that can be recognized. In this stage, the individual consumes more of the substance than they intend, and it goes beyond normal controlled levels; for substances, this can be any use at all.

They may want to cut down on their intake but not be able to, or they may be unaware there is a problem and not want to quit.

  1. Social Problems

In this stage of addiction, the individual may begin having relationship problems with a loved one, give up activities that they once cared about and were passionate about, or begin neglecting responsibilities to work or school.

Many people identify this as depression; in many cases, the substance abuse can cause depressive feelings and actions.

  1. Risky Use

Once the individual knows about the problem, they continue use, and may even begin using the substance in risky settings and situations that puts their health or safety in danger. This stage may be aggravated and become more dangerous by a lack of safe access to resources. In heroin users, for example, this may lead to individuals sharing needles which can cause potentially fatal infections.

  1. Physical Dependence

In this stage, the individual cannot discontinue use without withdrawal symptoms, and they begin building a tolerance to the substance which leaves them needing more of the substance to get the same effects, which can quickly become dangerous as the effects to the body, internally and externally, become more pronounced.

These levels of severity are not rigid but are rather on a spectrum. By choosing a rehab facility that understands this spectrum like Red River Treatment Center, the likelihood of matched treatment and faster recovery is improved.

The Impact of Substance Abuse and Advanced Signs of Addiction

Substance abuse can come with a range of impacts not just on the individual, but on their family and friends as well.

On the individual, it can lead to a host of health problems and diseases, as well as emotional turmoil. Aggressive, depressive, and irrational behavior is a hallmark of someone who has become addicted, as cravings can cause them to hyperfocus on accessing the substance, and they can become erratic and unpredictable if anything blocks that access, whether it is a loved one or situational circumstances.

Substance abuse also greatly affects how well the body functions, and heart failure becomes more likely, and the liver and kidneys begin having trouble processing the substance leading to vitamin deficiencies and trouble urinating.

The immune system also becomes compromised, leading to more frequent colds and a higher likelihood of infection.

Because of these effects, addicted individuals typically struggle in their relationships with loved ones. Unknowingly, they drive these precious relationships away with their actions, which causes an even deeper cycle of aggressive or depressive, erratic behavior. Loneliness and self-loathing or lack of support can often lead them to drink more, causing them to fall deeper into addiction without help.

If you or a loved one is suffering through substance abuse, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Call the Red River Treatment Center today to learn more about rehabilitation programs or set up an appointment for a drug and alcohol counseling session. You deserve a second chance.

Seeking Treatment is the Right Thing to Do

Seeking treatment isn’t as easy as it looks for many individuals. Not only is it difficult to admit that you have an addiction; but to seek help for it often has a lot of feelings of hurt pride and vulnerability around it, as the individual knows how visible the treatment is to friends and family.

It can be difficult to see that their loved ones want the best for them, and that they are often proud of the individual for undergoing treatment and seeking help.

Furthermore, the idea of quitting their substance abuse can harbor a lot of fear. For many individuals, the substance acts like an emotional crutch they have become used to having in their lives.

It is akin to taking the training wheels off the bicycle of a child whose nervous about falling. Few individuals remember how good and freeing it can feel to ride full speed into sobriety, so it will take time to undo a lot of the emotions around the substance.

What Are the Five Stages of Treatment?

There are multiple stages of treatment that are designed to coincide with the classic stages of change, which is pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.

In the pre-contemplation phase, it may not be possible to get the individual to commit to a full rehabilitation treatment program, because they may not be convinced that they have a problem yet.

During this stage, it is important to ease the patient into treatment by asking about how they feel and using that to tailor a milder form of treatment that allows them to dip their toes into the water and get help. This might be something as simple as yoga, breathing exercises, or seeing a drug and alcohol counselor for a single session.

In the contemplation phase, they are beginning to understand that they have an addiction and that they can find help. The goal of this phase is to help uncover their motivation for sobriety and help them work towards it with the promise that things can change with a little work.

During the action stage, treatment begins. They may be on medicated treatment, seeing a counselor, enrolled in a rehabilitation center, seeing a support group, or all the above.

The action stage is an important step in recovery, and it is important that their feelings are validated and their hard work in trying to become sober is rewarded. It’s unlikely that the patient will quit cold turkey, so a reduction in usage is to be celebrated nonetheless as it recognizes the effort in working towards their goals.

During the maintenance stage, the patient is in recovery and it is important to maintain their access to support and therapy to ensure that they don’t relapse into their old habits. Providing them with coping tools to navigate their way around sober life is essential.

What Treatment Program is Best?

Different treatment programs will work best depending on the stage of addiction the individual is in, as well as whether they’ve accepted the fact that they have an addiction or not.

For many, they’ve turned to substance abuse to escape from some emotional distress in their life or as a way to obtain acceptance from their peers. If this is the primary motivator and it is not a debilitating addiction, an outpatient treatment program may be best.

Outpatient treatment programs allow the individual to return home at the end of the day, but there are mandatory activities and counseling sessions that they must attend, and their progress will be evaluated periodically to determine whether the treatment program is working for them.

For others, no matter what their original motivation was for using their substance, the addiction has become debilitating. Perhaps they’ve lost their job, or relationships around them have suffered due to their addiction. They may act erratically and become secretive about the amount of substance abuse they engage in.

These individuals often see the best results with an inpatient treatment program, where they visit the facility for a long period of time, residing there for the duration of their treatment until they have successfully detoxified, and treatment has been shown to help them on their path to sobriety.

What Is an Intervention?

For many, staging an intervention for a loved one is an important part in an individual seeking treatment for their addiction.

The individual may not realize how bad their addiction has gotten, as they are wrapped up in the world of insatiable cravings and unexpressed emotions that drive them to the substance.

When loved ones come together to express their concern for the individual, they may react poorly at first. It is critical that during the intervention no one uses blame language that can make them feel defensive. It is best if the language used during the intervention come from a place of concern, and that they address the underlying issues as best as possible.

For example, if the individual turned to alcohol after a divorce, you might express your empathy for the hurt they feel, and that you can understand that alcohol helps numb the feelings, but you are concerned that they have lost themselves in alcohol.

It is important that the intervention has an end goal with an ask, with a hidden alternative ask.  

For example; you can’t simply leave the intervention after bringing it to their attention, as that leaves them with thoughts to mull over alone, and they may begin thinking that they can’t talk to you about their addiction or that something is wrong with them.

Instead, many interventions end with asking the individual to go to rehab counseling if the addiction has gotten bad enough. Rehab works when the individual accepts that they have a problem and have a desire to get better; as an alternative to this, you may consider asking that they see a drug and alcohol counselor just to get a third-party opinion about their substance use.

Even if they don’t think they have a problem, they are more likely to engage in this alternative to please loved ones. It is then up to the professional to assess their substance use and help them understand whether they have a substance abuse problem or not.

What is Detoxification?

When you ask “what is the first step in treating addiction” in the facility, a lot of rehabilitation centers will begin talking about detoxification as their primary goal with a new patient. (2) It is common that patients come into the facility with drugs or alcohol still in their system, which makes it difficult to treat their addiction as their brain and body’s chemistry is not at their baseline.

those with a substance use disorder deserve treatment to address their addiction.

– NYTimes

The withdrawal process is difficult for many patients, which typically leads them to seeking out their addicted substance again to avoid the feelings of the ‘crash’ as many describe it.

Withdrawing from the substance may lead to cravings, cold sweats, anger, or other symptoms that change based on the substance they are addicted to. Detoxification is an important step in the rehab facility.

Because the patient can be monitored to ensure their safety with access to medical staff if necessary, detoxification is safe in a rehab setting, allowing the individual to take what many describe as one of the hardest steps towards sobriety.

The Importance of Aftercare

Aftercare is an important part of the recovery process. Once the individual has successfully achieved sobriety and feels confident in their ability to return to life without further addiction treatment, they don’t simply leave the facility or stop seeing their counselor just because they’ve made the decision. (3) Navigating sober life alone after having so much support along the way would be quite a shock to endure. Essentially, what aftercare provides for patients is the ability to take baby steps into the next chapter of their lives, which is completely self-managed sobriety with confidence.

those in recovery need resources to navigate their journey through a sober life. Access to 24-hour urgent care, a community space to connect with peers and counselors and safe, sober living facilities post-treatment are all essential to maintaining progress.

– Forbes

By providing aftercare services for patients, it reduces the risk of relapse from their progress or a rebound into a different addiction.

Patients are given a tapered schedule for their treatment to ensure that they are ready to quit rehab, and provided with services that might benefit them as they transition out of the facility such as skill-building activities that are beneficial for potential jobs.

Because therapy is such a beneficial asset to individuals in and out of the rehab center, the amount of appointments may be decreased based on the patient’s preference during aftercare. It is typically recommended that they stay with their therapist to continue discussing their adjustment to a sober lifestyle. This provides a safe outlet where they can discuss their journey through sobriety.

Seeking Care at Red River Treatment Center

Red River Treatment Center is the top rehabilitation facility, providing quality care and treatment for individuals addicted to substances of any kind.

Whether you are looking to free yourself from opioids, street drugs, or alcoholism, our team of psychiatrists, counselors, and support staff can help you.

We provide inpatient residential rehabilitation as well as intensive outpatient care so that patients can recover in a way that works best for them, in combination with medication, therapy and counseling, or other mental health services.

Ready to take your second chance? Give us a call today and learn more about our new patient process.


  1. Huffpost, Cries For Help: 10 Signs of Addiction, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cries-for-help-10-signs-o_b_11796030
  2. NYtimes, The Complexities of Addiction Treatment, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/opinion/letters/drug-addiction-treatment.html
  3. Forbes, How Addiction Treatment Industries Can Provide Successful Long-Term Outcomes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/01/07/how-addiction-treatment-industries-can-provide-successful-long-term-outcomes/?sh=16c264057e64