How Does an Addict Make the Correct Changes to Stay Clean?

Happy sober man

I heard the same phrase for years when I was in and out of treatment facilities hoping to turn my life around and get clean: ‘The only thing you have to change is everything’. I’ll be honest, that sounds great on paper and all, but that never seemed like a realistic approach to getting clean for me.

There was a lot about my life as an addict I despised and desperately wanted to change, but there were also aspects of my life that weren’t rooted in addiction while also being a driving force behind me wanting to get clean in the first place. It felt like a tall order and a stressful balancing act, trying to hold on to certain things while changing this and that but always feeling unsure about why and what I was doing to stay clean. Taking that approach was overwhelming. I felt like was holding on to a thread for dear life and constantly questioning whether staying clean was even worth it. It’s not surprising that I rarely did for long. Without a light at the end of the tunnel or any true direction to get to where I needed to go, finding my way was proving to feel like an impossible task filled with failure.

If a person uses a road map that tells them to go in the opposite direction from their destination, they will be worse off following said map then where they were when they started. It’s not much different for an addict; the road map for change must lead to the correct destination. Change for the sake of change doesn’t handle anything. I can wipe my phone clean, move to Alaska, cut all of the people dear to me out of my life, and not one of those things will help me stay clean if I don’t handle the underlying roots of what drives me to use drugs and go back to living a life as an addict. The depths of despair that addiction took me went far beyond people, places, and things. I was completely broken as a person, and there was nowhere on the planet I could run to and no person I could hide from that was going to fix my addiction. This isn’t to say those types of changes won’t end up being helpful, the problem is trying to make those changes before knowing what the right course of action is.

guy making bad choice

For me, this all clicked when I stopped worrying about where I was going to live or who I needed to cut out of my life during the infancy stage of my recovery. First, I needed to make changes to myself, the first and most obvious being getting my health back, both physically and mentally. The first step I took was to stop trying to figure out my future when addiction was still driving my thoughts. That’s not a good time to make life-altering decisions that I will have to live with, for better or worse. In the beginning, I simply focused on my health and recovering from all the damage that had been done to my body through drug abuse and put everything else aside for the time being. Once that was done, I worked on changing my way of thinking, one that promoted making decisions that would have a positive impact on my life regardless of whether it drove my impulses.

In the past, I’ve always known when I was making a dangerous decision that put me at risk, and when addiction was driving my choices I tended not to care. I worked on changing that mindset and began focusing on making the right decisions. Enough time spent making good decisions, and I no longer had that voice in my other ear urging me to make the wrong decision. The ability to make decisions that were good for my life was the biggest, most powerful, and by far the most impactful change that I have ever made. It wasn’t about making a bunch of crazy changes all at once, it was about putting forth the effort to make the one change necessary to help me realize what changes were right for me so I could make the best decisions for my life.

When I reflect on my life as an addict and how quickly a promising life was turned upside down by addiction, I’m reminded of all the times I used the wrong map to try and find my way back to myself. As an addict I found myself feeling completely lost in life, and there may be no better feeling in my recovery than knowing I never have to feel lost again. The roadmap I was seeking lied within—all I had to do was find it and use it. That’s the change I was looking for, and that’s the change I made. If you or anyone you know is seeking help, please reach out.

Justin P.


Drew Jambon

Drew has been working in the field of addiction and recovery for over 2 years. Having been an addict himself, he brings real-world experience to the table when helping addicts and their families, while also offering a first-person perspective to the current drug crisis. Drew is passionate about educating the public about what’s currently going on in our society, and thankfully, offers practical solutions.