There is no real answer to this question. Recovering from addiction is a process, usually defined as the time when an addict is no longer plagued by the mental obsession to use drugs and alcohol. There is some debate among people in recovery when it comes to using the term “recovered”, because working a program of recovery requires daily effort in order to grow in spirituality, but the term “recovered” is clearly stated in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as a state in which those afflicted with alcoholism and drug addiction can live free from the mental obsession.
After years of being troubled with a terrible addiction, people that are getting sober are eager to be freed from the mental obsession, and it can happen at any time, but it requires certain things. It can be easy, especially coming out of treatment, to get caught in the “pink cloud”, which is a state of being in which you are riding on a spiritual high, and sometimes happens as the result of having a spiritual experience in treatment. A word of caution: it is generally not a good idea to rely on the feelings one has during their “pink cloud” experience. It fades away as responsibilities pile up and mistakes are made. Reality sort of sets in, and life happens.
So what does being free of the mental obsession look like? It’s simple really. When the mental obsession is lifted, a drug addict and alcoholic isn’t consumed with thoughts of using all the time. For those that are free of the mental obsession, the thought to use may occur sometimes, but it is usually fleeting, and is always followed by taking action to address it. For them, this action has become second nature, so they no longer feel that drugs and alcohol are taking control of their life.
Time is important. There needs to be a certain period of time during which an addict is constantly practicing the principles as they are spelled out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This period of time is essential, as it is the most vulnerable. New habits have not been built yet, and a new personality has not formed. Actions build habits, which build personality. During the first several months of early sobriety it is key to practice these principles as often as possible, so that you can build the habits, which then in turn become your personality. When a program of recovery has become your personality, and you practice the principles without even having to think about them, the obsession to use will be lifted. That is the promise of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
So how long does it take to be free? Some people say a year. Some say after a person has been through the twelve steps and is sponsoring others. The answer is nebulous. It depends on the person. The more you practice the principles of recovery, the sooner it will happen. It says in the 12th step that we have to practice the principles in all of our affairs so that we can be rid of the mental obsession. That is the truth.