“Precovery” is a moment in a person’s addiction when they come to a crossroads and decide to become sober.

For the first time in a long time, the addicted person is having clear realizations about how substance abuse is adversely affecting them. The person may realize they can no longer run from their addiction and that rationalizing their behavior while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is doing them no good.

This internal struggle sparks the idea within the person that quitting drugs and alcohol once and for all is the option they need to pursue to regain control over their physical and mental health and rebuild their relationships.

While these thoughts can provide much-needed motivation and a desire for the person to get help, there is a fine line that the person who’s using must acknowledge when it comes to searching for recovery versus seeking recovery. 

Thoughts of quitting have crossed the minds of substance users countless times, but those thoughts were often fleeting.

Even if thoughts of stopping drug use for good come to the forefront, the person must decide. They either will act on these thoughts and get sober, or they will continue to think about quitting and stay in the vicious cycle of substance abuse.

Where Do ‘Searching vs. Seeking’ Behaviors Begin?

One of the greatest mysteries of recovery is exactly where and when the addicted person decides to pursue sobriety in earnest. Despite what some may think, the recovery process begins long before a person enters a substance rehabilitation facility.

The start of the recovery process starts with a growing internal dialogue the person has about the impact that substance abuse has on them. This phenomenon, known as precovery or recovery priming, was coined by psychologist William White. It accurately describes the tug-of-war the person experiences from within.

White himself explains this process as the following:

Precovery involves several simultaneous processes: physical depletion of the drug’s once esteemed value, cognitive disillusionment with the using lifestyle (a “crystallization of discontent” resulting from a pro/con analysis of “the life”), growing emotional distress and self-repugnance, spiritual hunger for greater meaning and purpose in life, breakthroughs in perception of self and world, and (perhaps most catalytic in terms of reaching the recovery initiation tipping point) exposure to recovery carriers—people who offer living proof of the potential for a meaningful life in long-term recovery. 

“These precovery processes reflect a combustive collision between pain and hope.

White’s explanation of the searching vs. seeking manner of precovery is certainly a lot to take in. In layman’s terms, the precovery process is one in which the addicted person comes to terms with the fact that drugs and/or alcohol bring them pain and frustration more often than it does pleasure. 

The person is also growing weary of living the substance abuser lifestyle and is desiring to get back to the happy and fulfilled life they were living before substance abuse took over their existence.

Are You Caught in the Middle?

If you are caught in the middle of searching for recovery and truly seeking recovery, take the time to do some significant and candid self-reflection. When you take a deeper look into your life, you need to look at your history of substance abuse and how it has affected you. You’ll also have to consider how your past has affected other people’s lives. These will be among the tough questions you’ll have to ask yourself.

To make the process easier, use the questions below to help guide your self-reflection:

  • Am I a truly happy person when I am using, or am I just hiding my pain?
  • How has my drug of choice negatively affected my life?
  • What have I lost as a result of my substance abuse?
  • What will happen to me if I continue to abuse substances?
  • How do I truly view myself in relation to my addiction?
  • How do others perceive me in relation to my addiction?
  • Will I ever be the person I am meant to be if I continue to use drugs?
  • Do I lie, cheat, or steal?
  • Can I develop lasting relationships while using drugs?
  • In what ways would my life improve if I quit using drugs for good?
  • What do I really want to do with my life?

Asking yourself the hard questions honestly is a very hard thing to do. While the answers you come up with can be extremely painful, this pain can help you transition from searching for help to actually seeking it.

In reality, the searching versus seeking phase of recovery can unfold over months, years, and even decades. While there is no set time for precovery to take place and resolve, precovery must unfold naturally.

The commitment a person who is battling addiction makes to sobriety must be absolute. If  the person can’t be accountable to themselves in an honest fashion, they will never experience a meaningful, long-term recovery.