Most addicts and alcoholics have experienced periods in their lives when they stopped drinking and drugging for a brief moment. Maybe this only lasted for a few days or a few weeks, perhaps the person went to jail….whatever. The issue is not in the stopping of drinking or using drugs, because that happens all the time. The problem is staying stopped. How do we go about breaking the cycle of addiction?
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The Cycle of Addiction
1) Motivation – this is the first question….can you actually initiate your own motivation to quit drinking? I honestly don’t know for sure, but I suspect at times that the only true motivation can come after a person truly “hits bottom”–in other words, not through their own choice, but because of where their addiction has led them in life. This is an important distinction….some people believe that an alcoholic can willingly choose to recover without first hitting a devastating bottom and then surrendering to their disease. Either way, the level of conviction is obviously really, really important to your chances of success.
2) Chronic relapse – there are people in recovery that just don’t seem to get it. Time and time again after relapsing, they keep coming back to their support system and trying to get sober again. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, although it can get very tiresome for everyone involved. Sometimes, it takes what it takes. Ask a dozen people with several years of sobriety, and many of them will tell you that they continuously relapsed for several years before they finally got sober “for good.” Although each relapse is dangerous, it might just be the next step in someone’s journey towards sobriety. For example, it took me several tries before I managed to successfully quit smoking. Each relapse became a small learning experience, and I was eventually able to use this accumulated knowledge to overcome cigarette addiction for good.
1) Mental and physical illness – this is perhaps one of the biggest causes of relapse that I see on a regular basis (along with relationships) that causes recovering alcoholics and addicts to relapse. The key thing to watch out for here is that some illnesses seem to perpetuate addiction. This doesn’t mean that it bars you from recovery, but many conditions seem to be a major obstacle to recovery. Getting sick physically can become a stumbling block when someone has been clean and sober for a long time. For example, sometimes prescribed medications can lead a person back to their drinking or drug of choice. Other times, a person’s health will simply deteriorate to the point where they no longer value their sobriety.
2) Family relations – this is another complicating factor that is notoriously difficult to address. If an addict or alcoholic is using in response to an unhealthy family situation, and they get sober and simply return to that same situation, the chances for recovery are not good. If the home environment remains unhealthy then this will obviously complicate a person’s chance at recovery, particularly if they are younger. That’s why many treatment centers and recovery experts have shifted to addressing addiction and alcoholism as a family disease. Successfully treating the entire family has proven to be extremely difficult, however.
Action items – how you can break the cycle of addiction
1) Examine your complicating factors – if you have mental illness, this needs to be addressed when you first get clean and sober. Realize that it must be treated alongside of your addiction.
2) Physical health – is a part of recovery. Your physical well being is linked to your success in recovery. Illness seems to increase the likelihood of relapse.
3) Environmental factors / family relations – If this is your trigger for relapse, then get out. Anyone can potentially escape through the use of long term treatment, and get a fresh start on their recovery, perhaps returning to their family after they have established a solid foundation. Long term treatment works.