Ask The Expert: Addiction Specialist Patricia Nannery on Support and Positive Reinforcement in Early Recovery

As an addiction therapist, part of our role is to help the client to understand the addiction cycle and the progression of the condition and to raise awareness of the recovery process. Developing a recovery mindset that includes a focus and commitment to recovery is part of the early stages of active recovery. Getting the right support is what helps those in recovery to believe in themselves and the recovery process so that they can become focused and committed to change.

The drip feeding of healthy, safe recovery strategies is paramount for the individual in early recovery.

In this DayOne Recovery Series article, addiction specialist Patricia Nannery answers some common questions about the role of recovery support and continued positive reinforcement in early recovery and through the first year of sobriety.

One day at a time‘ is a powerful and grounding recovery mantra. So it may sound contradictory to suggest that committing to the recovery process, especially throughout the first 12 months of addiction recovery, is the right mindset to adopt. However, developing focus and commitment to recovery is necessary for establishing sobriety and reaching recovery milestones. And, on the bad days, when your feeling apathy, overwhelmed or unmotivated, it is those around you who will carry you through the day and help you stay grounded in your recovery.

About Patricia Nannery, Addiction Specialist, M.I.A.H.I.P

Patricia Nannery is an Addiction Specialist, Clinical Supervisor (M.A) and Psychotherapist who worked for over fifteen years in two of Ireland’s top private residential addiction treatment centres, Smarmore Castle and The Rutland Centre. Now in private practice, Patricia works with clients in active recovery and supervises Psychotherapists and Addiction Counsellors working face-to-face and online in Co. Meath, Ireland. I put to Patricia the common questions clients ask me in sessions who are new to the addiction counselling and recovery process.

Why is it important to commit to an addiction treatment plan and recovery process for the first full year of recovery?

The early days and months of recovery are confusing times. On the one hand, the client often feels very motivated to change and proud of that change. On the other hand, the familiarity and ritual of using alcohol, drugs, behaviours etc., is still pretty dominant in the mind and body. The coping mechanisms of compulsivity and compulsion to drink, use or act out served a purpose in the past. These will still be strong in the psyche and physiologically, socially, and possibly relationally as many factors influence us throughout the day.

The common factors contributing to a relapse always come down to three things – a change in thinking, a change in mood and a change in behaviour.

I refer to the ‘drip feeding‘ analogy to describe the continued daily reinforcement and learning about healthy recovery and establishing sobriety. The drip feeding of healthy, safe recovery strategies is paramount for the individual in early recovery. It can be provided by those supporting the individual’s recovery and creating a sense of manageability to replace a dependence that made life unmanageable. 

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These strategies are learned through various research-based supports and interventions in addiction treatment and recovery. They are 12-step fellowship meetings or similar recovery self-help support meetings, addiction counselling, and establishing healthy, safe activities and behaviours that must be prioritised in early recovery. 

How does addiction counselling help someone concerned about a substance or process addiction and start recovery?

One-to-one individual counselling helps support the client in staying committed to the change of lifestyle and continuing to make good daily choices. The addiction counsellor’s role is to help the client understand and identify these changes so that they can implement them into their daily life in a meaningful and realistic way. Find out more about how to prepare for your first addiction counselling session.

How does being involved and supported by a self-help recovery group complement personal therapy?

The ‘drip feed’ idea is the healthy, positive reinforcement of changing behaviours and attitudes. Because our ego mind is powerful, combined with the addictive nature of substances or process behaviours, our mind often sabotages us, leading to slips, lapses and relapses. We need to be hearing and engaging in motivating, positive, healthy pursuits on a regular basis.

The healthy drip feed of fellowship group support meetings, compassionate peer support, and often friendship that develops through groups, continuing care as an outpatient and personal addiction counselling all provide an ongoing source of encouragement and strength to make good choices. The right support continues to promote recovery and protect from the destruction of life in active addiction. Some individuals will require residential addiction treatment followed by aftercare, depending on the assessment outcomes and the nature of the addiction.

‘One-to-one individual counselling helps support the client in staying committed to the change of lifestyle and continuing to make good daily choices.

Routine, support and consistency are important elements for establishing sobriety and recovery. Why are these important in the first ninety days to twelve months?

The patterns of behaviour and the personality of someone in addiction form over a number of years. The personality becomes altered, and denial, delusion, minimising and rationalising become the default method to deal with life.

This destructive pattern of behaviour and the individual’s personality needs to change and develop in recovery. Hence, daily routines and healthy physical and psychological choices are necessary.

Some changes happen quickly, and other changes need slow, steady movement. Hence the ‘one day at a time‘ AA mantra becomes the bedrock of knowing one can change.

In this aspect, the necessary changes needed in the individual are supported by 12-step fellowship meetings and group self-help support. These meetings are the best, most accessible and free method of ensuring abstinence, changing oneself and lasting recovery. They are available every single day, all through the day.

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How does therapy help individuals understand and navigate slips and relapses?

Counselling is particularly beneficial to explore the reasons behind relapse, and the client can then navigate the near relapse occasions in the future.

Relapse never just happens. Relapse is always tracible to a change in thinking, mood and behaviour in the days and maybe weeks before the actual relapse.

An experienced and skilled addiction counsellor will work with the client to identify the potential factors which can lead to relapses, make safe plans and develop simple strategies to circumnavigate various situations and address red flag behaviours.

In your clinical experience working in residential treatment for many years, what causes an individual to relapse?

The common factors contributing to a relapse always come down to three things – a change in thinking, a change in mood and a change in behaviour. A strong supportive recovery network helps to keep you grounded, self-aware and focused.

Contact Patricia Nannery, (M.Sc Clinical Supervision) M.I.A.H.I.P

Patricia Nannery can be contacted by emailing or by visiting her bio on the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP).

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy

Orlagh Reid

Orlagh Reid is an IACP accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Addiction Counsellor, Gottman Couples Therapist and Fertility Counsellor in private practice based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online via DOXY. She specialises in addiction, recovery, well-being and clinical sexology. To find out more or to book an online consultation visit

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy MIACP Therapy Ireland

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