The third idea that can be very empowering for your sobriety is to seek professional help.
Of course there is no such thing as an outright cure for alcoholism or drug addiction. That said, there is certainly help available at treatment centers, AA meetings, counseling sessions, group therapy, and so on.
Some of these solutions are “professional” while others are not.
In the end, many recovering alcoholics have used a mix of these methods–perhaps attending a professional treatment center first, and then following up with things such as regular AA meetings following treatment.
My main point here, however, is that it is a big mistake to turn your nose up at the idea of professional treatment services as if they cannot help you at all. I think this is a big mistake, and I know it is one that many people do, in fact, make.
At one time I read a government statistic that here in the U.S. only about 15 percent of alcoholics who actually need help will ever seek treatment for it. Now that statistic may not be entirely accurate but even if it is off by double (suggesting 30 percent seek help instead) then that is still very alarming. And then of those people who seek help for their addiction, not all of them will remain clean and sober. Tragic.
Treatment may not be an instant and magical cure, but my contention is that it is certainly better than the alternative, which is to not seek help.
The power of arresting your disease through disruption
Addiction is a cycle. Alcoholism is a cycle. The person is trapped in their repeated behaviors.
In order to break free from this cycle, change has to occur. The pattern must be disrupted in some way.
This is one function of getting professional help for your addiction–you are disrupting the pattern of abuse.
If you check into a 28 day program, then you don’t drink or use drugs or 28 days straight. This is a no-brainer. It is not difficult to remain sober once you are in treatment. Actually getting there can be quite a challenge, but once the alcoholic is in rehab it is a cinch to remain sober while they are actually there.
Getting to rehab can be tough and the follow up can be very difficult as well, but while you are actually in treatment it is pretty darn easy to remain sober. That’s the whole point. They make it easy for you while you are there.
This is disruption. You have disrupted your entire life. Everything changes while you are in treatment. Every routine has been thoroughly disrupted. Suddenly you are no longer exposed to any triggers. Suddenly all of the temptation has been removed. You are isolated away from the disease and you can focus exclusively on recovery.
You may have to ask yourself at some point as a struggling alcoholic: “If I don’t go to rehab, how do I expect to break free from my disease?” It is an important question because sometimes we tend to coast along in life and just hope for the best, even though the situation is working against us. We can’t expect for our addiction to just magically dissipate. The disease is progressive and things just keep getting worse and worse unless the alcoholic does something to break that pattern.
Checking into treatment is perhaps the simple way to break the pattern. It is not a long term cure but at least it is a short term solution. It can get you started on the path to recovery through the power of disruption.
Trying to do it all by yourself doesn’t really work
How do you know when you are an alcoholic and not just a “problem drinker?”
My answer to this has to do with your efforts in solving the problem.
So you notice that you are drinking too much and it is causing problems. At some point you decide, for yourself, that you would like to fix this problem and not drink so much.
So you try to scale it back a bit. Lay off the sauce.
If you are alcoholic then this will be met with mixed results, and eventually it will be as bad as it ever was. And it progresses. In the long run it will get even worse, even if you are actively trying to cut down and control it.
If you are just a “problem drinker” and not a real alcoholic then you should be able to stop quite easily in the face of real consequences. For example, someone who is not really a true alcoholic but gets pulled over while driving and they had just a few too many drinks that night. Such a person who is not a “real alcoholic” will never risk that again, they change their behavior immediately and it is never a problem again. You don’t have to tell them twice.
The alcoholic, on the other hand, is just getting started with their problems at this point. They don’t stop drinking and in fact it gets worse over time. They tried to quit on their own and it didn’t work. Or they decide that they don’t really want to quit. Or whatever.
So the question is: “Can you stop drinking on your own and live a successful life?”
If the answer is “no” then, by my definition, you are an alcoholic.
The alcoholic needs help in order to quit.
Period. That is the functional definition. It is not a technical definition, and it is just one person’s opinion, but it is a fairly practical and functional definition.
If you can’t stop drinking under your own power then you are an alcoholic.
And if that is the case then you obviously need help. Outside help.
Extra help. Professional help.
If you can’t stop drinking by yourself then you probably need professional help of some sort in order to stop.
There is nothing wrong with this. The key is that you realize it and act on it. The key is that you realize that you cannot stop on your own, that you have tried numerous times, and it has never worked out.
If you can quit drinking entirely on your own and move on and have a great life, then that is fantastic. There is no problem. Go be sober and be happy. Live a life of freedom. As they say in AA, if you can do that, then “our hats are off to you.” Good for you.
If you try to do that, however, and find that you cannot make it work, then you have a serious problem. And you need help. And this is the point where I think the label of “alcoholic” or “addict” starts to apply quite well, and should help you to identify the kind of help that you really need.
My advice is not to be afraid of the label or try to avoid it. If you can’t stop on your own and you have seriously tried then you are addicted. Accept it and then deal with it. Accept it and move on with your life.
Addiction is primary but there can still be complicating issues
Here is something that many people don’t know:
Addiction is primary. Alcoholism is primary.
What does that mean? It means that this theory here is completely WRONG:
* “Everyone has causes underneath the addiction and if we can treat those causes then it would reduce the need to drink or self medicate.”
That is the idea that addiction is a secondary disease, that it is created due to these underlying causes.
For example, maybe a person was abused in their childhood and so the addiction is a result of the abuse.
We know today that this is wrong.
I am not saying that childhood abuse is not a factor when it comes to addiction. What I am saying is that addiction is primary and it can exist without ANY underlying causes such as childhood abuse.
This is important.
It is important to realize that the addiction exists as a real disease unto itself. It is not the effect of some other cause. Addiction exists. We have to accept it and treat it accordingly.
My own experience backs this up in a major way. I almost felt a little out of place in rehab one time because everyone seemed to have better excuses than I did! My life was very good growing up and I did not really have any issues of past trauma. And yet it seemed like my peers all had plenty of excuses that would have drove them to drugs or alcohol.
But this is not really how it works. Addiction is primary. It can happen to anyone, for no reason at all. Addiction does not depend on past trauma or abuse or anything like that. It can just happen, and then we have to accept it and deal with it.
I was shocked at one point during my work in a treatment center when I realized something profound:
For a few people in rehab, addiction is not actually their biggest problem!
This was a shocking revelation to me.
For most people, addiction is by far their biggest problem in life. But for a few people, it’s not. It is a big problem, but they actually have much bigger issues that they are dealing with (self harm and suicide are a good example of a problem that can be bigger than addiction). Perhaps “bigger problem” is not the right term, as both of these problems are potentially fatal. But I think you get the point here–that some people have serious issues in addition to their addiction that threaten to destroy them.
And it is important to realize that, while these side issues may not have caused the addiction, it still may be an important part of the overall treatment plan to try to address these things. For example, say that someone has chronic pain issues and they are addicted to heroin. You can’t just detox such a person and then toss them back on to the street without any help for the chronic pain and expect them to do well. You have to look at some of these other factors and see if you can direct them to the right sort of help.
Professional treatment services are much more likely to do this sort of thing than if you are just going to non-professional meetings and such. The side issues may be a factor and if you can treat those as part of the overall recovery plan then it may really increase the odds of remaining sober.
Finding a support network through treatment
Where are you going to get support for recovery?
I was too afraid to go to AA meetings. I was way too scared. And I had no one to really turn to that could help me specifically with sobriety.
So what was I supposed to do? How was I going to get the support that I needed?
The answer, for me, turned out to be through rehab. I went to a treatment center and they did two major things that allowed me to get the support that I needed:
1) They introduced me to AA meetings, which were held on-site, and I could continue to attend such meetings after treatment.
2) They directed me to long term rehab, where I continued to live in a sober living environment with a group of peers.
This is how I got support during the first two years of my sobriety. If I had not attended treatment then there is no way that I could have done any of this. I would not have been forced to attend AA meetings and I simply would not have gone through with it. But because I was in treatment I was expected to go. Being in rehab forced me to attend. I did not like this at first but I also did not want to die from alcoholism either. I was sick and tired of being miserable and so it was time to face my fears. I was afraid of AA meetings but I was more afraid of dying drunk. So I summoned my courage and went to rehab and attended several meetings.
Maybe you don’t need to go to rehab in order to find this sort of support network. If that is true then good for you, go find the support that you need and use it stay sober. But there are still other reasons that you might seek out professional treatment anyway.
A great example of this has to do with physical withdrawal. It is worth pointing out that detoxing from alcohol and certain drugs can be dangerous or even fatal. So before you try to go cold turkey by yourself on the couch, consider the risks. You may want to even call up a treatment center and ask them what the risks are in your situation. Of course it all depends on what substances you are taking, what quantities, and how long you have been taking them for…not to mention your own body type, weight, tolerance, and so on. There are so many variables involved that if you are in any doubt it is generally safer (and wiser) to attend rehab if you have any chance at doing so.
If you are serious about quitting then what do you really gain by avoiding rehab? I can tell you from my own experience that every minute that I invested in treatment was well worth it. I attended a 21 day program and then I lived in a sober house for 20 months at the beginning of my sobriety. At this point I have over 13 years of continuous sobriety and my life just keeps getting better and better. So it may sound like a long time to live in rehab for 20 months, but how do you think I feel about this investment after being sober for the last 13 years? Of course it was well worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat if I was facing the decision again. Treatment saved my life and I also worked in a treatment center for 5 plus years after that. Based on my experiences and also my observations I have to conclude that, in general, more treatment is generally a good thing. People who cut out of treatment early (or who skip it altogether) generally end up regretting it. There are few exceptions I am sure but I can’t think of any right now.
Giving yourself every possible advantage in staying sober
If you are serious about staying sober then you would do well to give yourself every possible advantage in pursuing sobriety.
As I said, I worked in a professional treatment center for over five years, full time. It became pretty easy for me to spot obvious denial. For example, a husband and wife would show up and one of them would be scheduled to check into treatment. But the person may not be ready to do so, they were scared, they were nervous, they were not ready to stop drinking yet. And so this person would suddenly start making excuses about why they couldn’t stay, why they shouldn’t stay. It was painful to watch. And you would try to convince them that they were doing the right thing, that it was going to be OK, and that their life would work out so much better if they just stayed in treatment. And of course at that point they would be arguing that they don’t even need treatment in order to quit, that they would remain sober on their own, they just talked themselves right out of rehab.
In 100 percent of these cases the person went home and drank alcohol. Every single time. In the five years that I worked full time in treatment I never heard of a single exception to this. The same goes for people who were checked into treatment but decided to leave early. They would argue that they were not going to drink, that they just had to leave for other reasons, and every single one of them went and drank or used drugs. Every single time.
Think about the implications of this. I wish that everyone reading this could somehow borrow the experiences that I had in watching thousands of people coming through treatment. The bottom line is that treatment works, but only if you fully surrender to it. You can’t fight against it. You can’t try to manipulate it in any way. You have to accept your disease, ask for help, and then be willing to do the work. If you are not willing to do the hard work and commit yourself to recovery then you are almost certain to relapse in the future.
Saying that some people get sober without any help is a little like saying that some people win millions in the lottery. Sure, it happens…..but it is NOT going to happen to you. Don’t plan on it, don’t count on it, and instead…..give yourself every possible advantage in getting sober. A big part of this is in seeking professional treatment services. It is not a cure but it is also the single strongest thing that you can do for yourself on this journey. Don’t ignore it.
What about you, did you get sober without any help at all? Or did treatment play a vital role in your recovery as it did in mine? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!