It’s been seen many times – the alcoholic has had enough and decides to quit once and for all, so he quits “cold turkey.” The heroin addict sweats out an horrific withdrawal and swears that experience was enough to ensure he will never go there again. Why go to t if you’ve stopped? Isn’t stopping, or is there more?
The sincerity is there, but it is a rare addict (addicted to alcohol or drugs) who can maintain that abstinence long term because there are so many components of addiction that insidiously undermine one’s best attempts. There is a difference between Aunt Aggie’s use of alcohol and yours. Even when she lost her husband, she still would only enjoy an occasional drink or night out, while you, on the other hand, react to a death or tragedy by turning to the only relief you know – escape into your addiction.
When things are going smooth the danger of relapse is not so great, but it’s when an unexpected crisis hits, or when you experience extreme boredom or anxiety, or even when you’re just trying to find something fun to do, it’s then that the extra support and education about your addiction with will prove invaluable. Understanding the disease concept means you know that the urge to drink or use can come on involuntarily despite your best efforts. Many times, a relapsing addict can’t even tell you why he ‘slipped.’
There’s something that happens, both physically and mentally, when one becomes an addict (or alcoholic). It is common for people to believe that when they get off their substance of choice, life will go back to the way it was before they started. That is a huge misconception, as once addiction has taken hold, irreversible changes happen to body and mind that will remain for the rest of the addict’s life. An addict’s body will always crave what it grew to recognize as a sort of “food.” Ever know an alcoholic that would rather drink than eat? That shows you right there that the craving for the addictive substance is a good bit stronger that the craving for food! Though the cravings lessen the farther away from the last drink or drug one gets, it doesn’t disappear.
That trigger will be there forever. An addict’s cells change to accommodate the daily toxin they’ve been fed, so those cells never forget what they’ve grown used to having. And your mind (plus endorphin system) will always remember the relief that came with feeding that craving. This may sound illogical, but ask any alcoholic who has relapsed how long it took to go back to drinking that liter a day he was tossing back when he quit. You’ll find almost always, within a month or less (depending on what stage of alcoholism he was at before he quit), he will again be drinking that liter a day. The later the stage he was in when he quit, the faster that happens, even after many years of sobriety!
The differences between abstinence and recovery are many, but to really arm yourself against the pitfalls that can and do come up is like adding “sobriety insurance.” There are reasons (besides the genetic propensity) that people become addicted to alcohol and drugs in the first place. Maybe we were brought up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes, sent into life with little problem solving and emotional coping methods, so we discover escapism into addiction as the way to roll through life’s ever changing flow. Maybe we were raised in wonderful homes and don’t know why we became addicted since our siblings did not. Maybe we’ve learned we can’t have fun without imbibing, so we don’t know what to do and we grow miserable and bored. “White knuckle sobriety” is a recovery term that illustrates the difficulties that come with abstinence alone. Just as well meaning friends and family members absolutely can’t understand why we continue to use when every instinct tells us we shouldn’t, they most likely can’t understand what lies beneath that need to escape. If they could, no one would need treatment beyond Mom’s chicken soup and a little down time.
Benefits of Recovery
It is the above scenarios we don’t address when we simply stop using. It happens that an addict will drink or use again even after a decade or more! The restlessness and boredom grab hold. Relationships are in turmoil and we are depressed and are not sure why. In spite of everything we’ve done right, we just aren’t happy. Life has become a series of obligations strung together. That’s where the help of professionals comes into play. Maybe there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. A mental health issue can be difficult to diagnose when the addict is using, but in sobriety symptoms become evident – maybe not to you, but to someone trained to diagnose such things. In treatment one can learn to recognize the relapse process before it actually happens. Other alcoholics or addicts can recognize things in you that you or your family may not be aware of. Treatment professionals know.
Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve taken to using something else to calm those jumbled nerves (family doc says it’s okay to use xanax ) but now, five years later, your nerves are worse than ever and your prescription never lasts long enough. You may have simply traded one addiction for the other. If you had told your family doc that you were an alcoholic, he may have known not to prescribe something that could be abused in the first place. How would you have known? You may find you’ve picked up some obsessive compulsive behaviors that you have no idea where they came from. Exercising twice a day can burn off some anxiety, but what happens if you can’t do it for a month? What do you do with all that anxiety now, and where does it come from to begin with?
Then on the coping skills side, there can be a lot to learn, and you can’t teach yourself something you don’t know. What do you do when the worst thing you could imagine happens? What do you need for added support besides family and friends? Plenty if the crisis is one common to those coming from the same place you are, not so much for those who know nothing about the addiction process and the baggage that comes with it. In the early months of abstinence you may be hit with mood swings and anger as your body and endorphin system are normalizing. If you’re trying to cope without the benefit of doing what you’ve always done, what do you do? How do you help your family know that their way of helping you is really driving you nuts and not helping at all? And how much time does detoxing really take? Some substances take much longer that others to completely leave your system. Most important of all, which withdrawals are dangerous and can be fatal if you are not detoxed under the care of a physician?
Emotional maturity is hindered by the vary nature of addiction, so you may have the reactive responses of an adolescent, which along with the control issues that come with the self-centered (or self preservation) responses may leave us frustratingly inept at handling certain situations. Co-dependency and isolation are also common default modes of addicts and alcoholics, and most in early sobriety are beset with these types of issues.
Some may need more time away from their living situations to really get a good foundation. Some may need extra therapy and guidance. And most of us need the sense of community found when groups of recovering people get together for that mutual support and mentoring offered by those who have already been there. Whatever your situation, finding a means of support is crucial, as putting down the substance of choice is only a part of the whole scope of recovery. Those who embrace all that is available while recovering have the best chances of leading a happy, full, and rewarding life.
Whatever path to recovery you choose, our staff has access to hundreds of treatment centers to assure the best personalized treatment for you, then with continued follow up to help you make the transition to sober living as seamless as possible.
Our trained staff of professionals are qualified to help you assess what type of treatment will be the best fit to ensure you or your loved one gets the help you need.
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