* Convincing someone to seek help for addiction
* Intervention and short term help
* Long term sobriety and overcoming addiction for the long haul
* Getting the results you want.
This website has two different groups of readers: addicts who are struggling to stay clean and sober, and also the friends and family of the struggling addict who are looking for ways that they might help them to recover. These are 2 completely different kinds of addiction help that might be studied and applied in your life, depending on which situation you are dealing with. Actually there are some similarities regardless of whether you are the addict or the loved one. Some of the same principles apply to both situations, such as the notion of surrender.
For example, the addict needs to surrender to their disease and stop struggling against it and trying to control it if they are to get started on a new life in recovery, while the friend or family member of the addict must surrender to the idea that they cannot control another person, no matter how badly they want to. Both groups of people can benefit from the concept of surrender.
I am a recovering addict myself who has been on both sides of the coin. I struggled for years to get clean myself and eventually succeeded. Now I spend a lot of time and energy trying to help others to recover. So I get to see a lot of what works and what doesn’t, and I can also compare this to my own experiences and what ultimately worked for me.
Convincing someone to seek help for addiction
A reader recently wrote in and asked me: “What was it that finally convinced you to seek help for your addiction? What was your mental state when you finally decided to get help? How did you arrive at this point?”
My personal moment of surrender occurred for reasons which might have been beyond anyone’s control. Some circumstances led me to a point of desperation. For one thing, my girlfriend at the time was out of town with her family, and I was alone for the first time in a long time. I think this might have been a big part of it: that I realized what the future held for me if I continued to drink. I was alone and trying my hardest to have a great time and be happy while getting loaded, and the booze was just not doing the job that it used to do. I was drinking 151 proof liquor and could not get to that “happy place.” It had stopped working. I am sure I could have blacked out eventually, but where was the fun? These were the exact realizations that I had on the day that I surrendered.
Now at the time, my family wanted for me to get sober and that was an influencing factor as well, though I can not say to what extent. Their support and their caring about me certainly nudged me toward sobriety. But by itself, that would never be enough to sway an alcoholic. I had to be desperate for change myself.
People use the wrong terms frequently when describing this state of surrender. They say things like “You have to want it badly enough for it to work.” It is not so much a want. It is more of a desperation that is needed. You have to be desperate for change in your life.
If you are trying to convince someone to seek help, ask yourself: “Are they desperate for change in their life?” If they are, then now might be the time to offer encouragement or direction (such as pointing out where 12 step meetings are or calling to get them into rehab).
If an addict is not desperate for change, then ask yourself: “Am I preventing this person from finding a point of desperation? Am I enabling them to avoid despair and misery and desperation?”
Sometimes we have to get out of the way and let the addict dig themselves into a hole. If we are constantly rescuing them then they will not likely get to a point of desperation. I became desperate when my support system was gone. My emotional support system. That was when I became desperate to change my life because I no longer had a distraction from myself. I had to face my life squarely and I got a powerful look at my potential future.
What if, on the days leading up to my surrender, my family or friends had decided to try to “help me out” by keeping me company and drinking with me? Would that have helped? Of course not. I probably would have kept on drinking. People had to withdraw their support for me to get to the point of desperation. Obviously, you cannot condone the behavior if you want to see it change. If you want someone to stop drinking, then do not support their drinking in any way. Don’t drink with them. Don’t be around them at all if they are drinking. Withdraw your support for the behavior.
This also brings up the idea of consequences. I had to see the future a bit to get desperate. I had to experience some consequences (isolation) before I could make a decision.
It is not realistic to sit down and convince an alcoholic to stop drinking directly. But you can still make a difference. Don’t do things that prevent the person from getting desperate. This is known as enabling behavior. In most cases, all you can really do is simply withdraw your support.
Intervention and short term help
To be fair, I am a bit biased because I work in a treatment center, and also because that is ultimately how I got clean and sober. I went to rehab. This failed for me the first 2 times I went, but the third time I attended treatment I stayed clean and sober.
Obviously, the number of times a person goes to rehab has little to do with success. I know people who have gone to rehab once and they “got it” right away. Others have been to treatment over 20 times and they still cannot string together 30 days clean. There is no magic formula here.
What really matters when it comes to short term interventions (such as a trip to a residential rehab) is whether or not the person is ready to quit. The level of willingness is critical. Of course, it is not so much a positive enthusiasm that will keep them sober, but rather a negative thing: it is the desperation that is required. Without being desperate for help, short term rehab is not likely to produce good results.
Formal interventions are a mixed bag, but they are mostly unhelpful, from what I have seen (and experienced). They are a long shot. If you are desperate, it might be worth the effort to gather up all the friends and family and try to confront the addict in a loving way, but probably not. At best, it will communicate to the person how much everyone cares. But they are generally not effective. Even if the person agrees to get help, or agrees to take action, the outcome of that will be negative unless they are truly desperate for change. My opinion is that it is just as effective in most cases to let natural interventions occur, rather than to stage a formal one. In other words, let them end up in jail a few times. If you get into a fight with them, then perhaps this was meant to be. It is part of the chaos that might get them to a point of surrender. Let interventions occur naturally. There is no need to force them, in my opinion.
It is a rough road to get to the point of desperation. Of course it is not going to be all paved with sunshine and smiles. If it was, then the person would never stop drinking/using. The idea of an intervention is that we can somehow take a shortcut and convince the person to get off this road to desperation. If they are already extremely miserable then it might work. But the majority of the time it is not worth the energy. Just my 2 cents of course, but this is based on a bit of experience.
In my experience, the best form of short term addiction help is rehab. That means getting the addict to go check into a place that has detox and a residential unit. In my opinion, it does not matter much how long they stay or where they go. Those variables do not seem to affect the outcome much. Staying in rehab for 10 days seems to do about the same as staying for 30 days. Again, just my opinion based on my observations. I am sure there is data out there to back this, but I have already seen studies that show long term treatment being only slightly more successful than short term stays. My point here though is that the details are not so important. Just getting to rehab and drying out is a necessary baseline for success. After that, it is all up to the individual anyway and their level of conviction and action.
I am always talking about taking massive action. This is the key to short term help. This is the key to any form of intervention when it comes to addiction. If nothing changes, then nothing changes. If things change a little, then nothing changes. And even if the addict makes modest changes, then really…..nothing changes. The only way to success in overcoming addiction is in making massive changes. Going to rehab is an excellent way to get started on these massive changes. New environment, new people, drying out from the chemicals, etc. It is the ultimate shortcut to recovery. It is the quickest way to take massive action.
But of course, this is only half the battle. Thousands of addicts go to rehab, only to relapse shortly after leaving treatment. I personally went to rehab twice and relapsed right after leaving both of them, so I know how this goes. But I also went to rehab once and managed to stay clean and sober for the last 8 years now. So I know how that goes too.
Long term sobriety and overcoming addiction for the long haul
I mentioned that it is all about massive action in early recovery. This is the foundation for a life in recovery. For some people, this will mean going to lots and lots of 12 step meetings, probably every single day, for a long time. For other people, this might mean using group therapy or counseling on a regular basis, and maybe even living in a long term treatment center. The exact strategy is not nearly as important as we think it is….what really matters is the action itself, and the consistency in taking positive action every day. Recovery is about living.
Why do so many addicts and alcoholics relapse shortly after leaving treatment? What is the secret to long term sobriety? What is the best path in which to achieve this goal?
For me, I can look back at my failed attempts at sobriety and realize that I was not, at the time, willing to change everything. Seriously, even though it is a tired cliche, you really do have to change everything. Massive change. If you go into recovery with the attitude that you might try and change most things, you are doomed to fail. That is why they call it surrender. You have to completely abandon everything that you think you know about living in order to learn a new way of life that will sustain sobriety.
Things finally clicked for me when I surrendered completely and totally. I was willing to do anything to stay sober and I knew that this meant living in treatment for a long time. For other people, this solution might be very different. I just knew that I needed that level of support and structure to have any chance at staying sober.
While I was living in long term treatment, I noticed a peculiar thing: most of my peers living with me there did not stay sober. In fact, I would say that nearly all of them relapsed, certainly over 75 percent of them (I lived with about 30 different guys over a 20 month period). Was long term treatment not the ultimate solution?
It turns out that it is most definitely not a magic bullet for recovery. It certainly worked for me, and I have seen it work for others, but it still fails for the majority of people who try it.
Getting the results you want
What, then, is the secret to long term recovery?
The best answer I have developed for this question is that the secret to long term recovery is holistic growth. “Holistic” just means that we are treating the addict as a “whole person,” and so we would encourage them to grow in different areas of their life. For example, my recovery has benefited greatly from:
1) Spiritual growth – in exploring a deeper connection with a higher power in many different ways over the past 8 years.
2) Physical health – in learning to exercise on a regular basis, eating healthier foods, quitting smoking, etc.
3) Emotional balance – in eliminating chaos from my life, and learning the value of a steady emotional level, and learning to appreciate it.
4) Mental growth – in both formal education, as well as exploring new ideas for recovery.
5) Relationships – eliminating and limiting toxic relationships, focusing energy on more meaningful relationships.
And so on. Long term recovery is the push for personal growth. Seek out holistic growth by exploring new avenues of your life in which you can improve yourself. Doing this consistently leads to a positive feedback cycle and greater and greater experiences. This is a long term strategy, however. If you try to incorporate all of this holistic growth stuff at 2 weeks sober, you are moving too fast (in my opinion). In early recovery, you need focus and massive action. In long term recovery, you need balance and personal growth.
You might also think about the dynamic between self acceptance versus this push for personal growth. When do we stop being lazy and start challenging ourselves to make more changes? And when do we accept ourselves fully and give ourselves a pat on the back? Perhaps there is no perfect answer for this, but in the interest of defending against relapse, we do well to error on the side of pushing for more growth as we continue to reap new benefits in recovery.
Can this hope of a new life inspire a struggling addict to change? Not in my experience. It did not inspire me and I have never seen it truly motivate others. The secret to surrender is desperation, not inspiration.