What are the most effective ways to beat drug or alcohol addiction? Anyone who has faced the desperate cycle of addiction where they found themselves drinking against their own will has probably contemplated this question. In fact, when I was in the depths of my alcoholism I questioned whether or not a solution was even possible for me at all. I truly was hopeless at one point and out of that hopelessness came a new level of fear and desperation.
It is only when you reach this “turning point” of almost total despair that you are in a position to be able to face your fears and recover. There is a fine balance between the fear of inaction and the misery of continuing on in addiction. Once the misery becomes great enough you may be motivated to take action and change your life. This is what finally happened to me and I became willing to ask for help. Asking for help led me to inpatient treatment, where I was able to get a new start on life again.
Most forms of treatment are abstinence based and all lead to the same life of personal growth and change
Most forms of treatment are based on the idea that you cannot control your addiction and therefore you must abstain entirely.
At first this is a crushing notion to the alcoholic. We recoil in horror at the idea that we can never drink alcohol again. It can be helpful if you can wrap your head around the idea that you don’t really have to quit alcohol forever, you just have to quit for today. That is a tough concept to really internalize and make it work to your advantage. If you can make it through one day of sobriety then the hope is that tomorrow will take care of itself. Of course, the present moment is always showing up, over and over again, and your real job is to stay sober in the present moment. The promise of recovery is that it does, in fact, get easier over time. In fact it gets exponentially easier after you get past a phase that I would call “early recovery.”
Now that is not to say that you are totally immune to relapse for the rest of your life, because obviously that is not the case. People can and so relapse after years or even decades of sobriety. But the fact is that the challenge of remaining sober will change drastically over time. In the first year it is a much more immediate threat, and therefore you have to take deliberate action to combat the daily cravings that may pop up. For example, you might go to therapy, attend AA meetings every single day, and talk to a sponsor and/or work through the steps with that person.
But in long term sobriety the focus shifts. It is no longer an immediate threat to your sobriety every day just to walk around and be subjected to random triggers. For example, I now have 13 years sober and I can go for entire months of time without seriously thinking of taking a real drink of alcohol. It is no longer an immediate threat to me. I have put enough distance between myself and my last drink while also doing a lot of active work in terms of personal growth and development. Both of those things are key, if you are just passing time while not drinking then in fact your disease is getting stronger as well. They have done some studies that seem to indicate that addiction still progresses even if you are not drinking at the time.
So it is not enough to be physically sober, you must also be strengthening your recovery. The analogy that they often use in AA is that “your disease is over in the corner right now doing push-ups, so you better be working on your recovery too!” And they are right in this analogy, from what I have seen and experienced. If you stop pursuing personal growth in recovery then your disease will eventually snap back and overtake you again. Complacency kills.
That said, let’s look a few different treatment models for recovery. None are necessarily better than the others, they are all valid and they all work for some people. None of them work for everyone. That should be a hint about how you will have to find your own path in sobriety. As they say in many recovery circles: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Find what works for you and run with it.
12 step based recovery like AA and NA
The most widespread solution is the 12 step program of AA (and related programs based on the same 12 steps such as NA).
There are certainly positive things to be said for the AA program. It gives hope to some alcoholics and drug addicts who have failed over and over again to get sober through other methods. On the other hand, don’t fall for the last choice fallacy, which many people in AA do all the time–believing that AA is the only program that works just because it was the last thing that they tried that happened to work for them. (After you find a working solution, you do not typically go on to test other potential solutions).
AA works for some, certainly not for all. If the AA census data is to be believed, the rate at which people come into AA and then leave is certainly not a great selling point. Something like 87% of every new person who sets foot into AA leaves within one year and never returns! That is not a very promising figure. If I was in charge of an organization with those kinds of numbers I would think about how I might retain more of my new recruits. That said, it is easy to be critical of any program when in fact we are dealing with a nearly impossible condition (addiction) in which people tend to self destruct. It may not be fair for us to point out the poor success rate in AA when in fact the blame should be entirely due to the nature of the disease itself. I honestly have no idea where the truth of this really lies, other than the fact that there are no other competing programs that boost far greater success rates than AA. Some try to claim they are superior but in clinical trials nothing really stands out as being vastly better than the 12 step program.
I am not arguing for or against the AA program. It is one solution, the meetings tend to be fairly accessible for most people, and in my opinion that means that you should give it a fair shot if you are serious about recovery. No, it is not perfect. No, it is not a cure. No, the success rates in AA are nothing to brag about. On the other hand, you have very little to lose by giving it a fair chance. Other programs have not proven to be wildly more successful, and in fact, may not even match AA’s meager success.
Simply because AA is so widespread, I argue that every struggling alcoholic should at least give it a chance. If it works for you, great. If not, move on and try something else. The key is to be honest with yourself and not resign yourself to just go ahead and be hopeless and drink.
Religious based recovery programs
The main alternative to the 12 step program of AA is a religious based recovery program.
In many ways these types of programs are quite similar to AA, in at least two ways:
1) Faith based and reliance on a higher power to remove the compulsion to drink alcohol. This is similar in both religious programs as well as in AA.
2) Community based support system. A group of peers that is on the same journey you are, with the same goals. Church communities and AA fellowship can be similar in this regard.
For anyone who is curious, there is even a Recovery Bible in which the principles that are found in AA are highlighted through the passages of the King James bible. Every one of the principles that are outlined in the 12 steps of AA can be found throughout the bible, so there is really no grounds to say that one program or method is vastly inferior to the other. If one is a complete program of recovery then the other one is as well, because all of the principles and concepts overlap and can be found in both.
That said, I believe that certain principles of recovery exist that are not found in AA (or possible not in religious based programs either) that can be found in other approaches. For example, the big book of AA does not say anything about how taking care of yourself physically or doing exercise can benefit your recovery or enhance your chances of staying sober, but this is a truth that I have found in my own journey.
Hence, I believe that the holistic approach has several advantages over the spiritually focused approach of AA and religious based recovery. However, this is just my opinion and it is not backed up at all by studies or scientific facts (as of yet).
A self motivated holistic approach
What makes the holistic approach so much better than AA or religious based recovery?
Here is the argument, see if you agree with this idea or not:
AA and religious based recovery are both spiritual approaches to sobriety. They both depend on spiritual growth and spiritual health. That is the focus of those two approaches.
The holistic approach includes spirituality, and therefore it can encompass AA or a religion. But it also goes beyond the spiritually focused approach to include personal growth in other areas as well, such as:
1) Physical health
2) Mental health
3) Emotional health
4) Social health
So for example, AA has nothing to say about daily exercise in terms of helping you to stay sober. Yet when I discovered distance running I found that it made a huge difference in my recovery and vastly reduced cravings while also smoothing out my emotional health and stability. The benefits were immense for me. Why wasn’t physical exercise and physical health incorporated into the 12 steps? That was a mystery to me.
Toxic relationships threaten your emotional sobriety, yet most programs focus much more heavily on strengthening your relationship with a higher power rather than eliminating these dangerous triggers from your life. Why not do both? The holistic approach looks at all 5 of those areas of health, not just spirituality. It is a more complete approach to recovery.
Once you start living the holistic approach to recovery, everything starts to change. This happens very slowly at first because you are making changes in different areas of your life. So maybe you are practicing gratitude every day (spirituality) and you are also working on getting better sleep, eating healthier meals, and quitting smoking (physical health). You go to an AA meeting and you surround yourself with positive people while also eliminating the toxic relationships in your life and the energy vampires who threaten to drag you down. Maybe you work on meditating or maybe you start exercising every day. This gives you more emotional stability and helps to keep you calm and even in terms of your emotions. You practice gratitude every day and you start making out lists for what you are grateful for. Mentally you start to get sharper as your sleep improves along with your physical health, your diet, your fitness level, and your emotional stability all improve as well.
Notice that this is a total package. It is not just “be more spiritual” and this will help you to avoid alcohol. Instead, it is all about making improvements in every area of your life, in every aspect of your health. And in doing so these various benefits start to enhance each other. For example, when I exercise every day my sleep vastly improves and I also find that I am more emotionally stable. That in turn allows me to practice gratitude much easier and I also feel mentally sharper as a result. It all ties in together. This is why the spirituality only approach of certain programs is, at best, incomplete and at worst, a mistake. The holistic approach is more powerful because you are pursuing personal growth along many different lines, and the benefits of doing this will start to cross over and enhance each other.
Getting honest with yourself about what works and what does not work for you in your recovery journey
Ultimately you need to be honest about what works and what does not work for you in recovery.
This is tricky because you do not want to just use this concept in order to justify a relapse. Instead, you want to use this concept to find another angle for your recovery journey.
In my own personal journey I struggled with this dilemma for a long time. I thought that I was in danger of relapse, but it turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me in recovery. Let me tell you the story.
I was living in long term rehab at the time and I was transitioning out of it into my own place. When I lived in long term treatment I was required to attend AA meetings. Obviously when I moved out this would no longer be the case.
During this transition I discovered the holistic approach to recovery and it was all about taking care of myself every day, improving my health, and pushing for personal growth. I did not believe that I needed to sit in AA meetings every day in order to make this happen.
So I decided that I would leave the daily meetings. But I was leaving them in order to pursue other avenues of personal growth. I wasn’t just sitting on my couch all day and watching cartoons instead of going to AA meetings. I was doing online AA in forums. I was writing in a journal. I was pushing myself to help others in recovery. I was pushing myself to make an effort at personal growth, at improving my health, at improving my life and my life situation. I was doing the work in recovery without necessarily sitting through the meetings every day.
And the peers around me warned me that I would relapse. They said that if I left the daily meetings that I would drink again. That was over ten years ago though and I have not had a drink since then.
Am I an anomaly? Or is there some validity to the holistic approach that I talk about here? I like to think it is the latter.
I have found other people in the world who are basically doing the same thing that I am in recovery: Forging their own path, avoiding mainstream recovery programs, and focusing on personal growth and holistic health. It seems to be working for them as well, though of course it does not work for everyone.
Sobriety is its own reward, to the extent that if you can go to AA and become sober by doing so, then by all means, DO IT.
If you can go to a church or a religious program and get sober that way, then I urge you to do that too.
Do whatever it takes. There is nothing that can justify living in the misery of alcoholism or drug addiction. Any solution is better than existing in that state of misery.
Of course it is up to you to take on this responsibility, to force yourself to follow through and find a solution that works. It is so easy to go back to our old behavior, to go back to our old lifestyle, to go back to drinking.
In the end there are no magic shortcuts. Whether you choose AA, religious based recovery, or a more holistic approach, it really doesn’t matter in the end too much. All of those paths still require the same basic fundamentals:
1) Surrender to your disease.
2) Surrender to a solution in your life.
3) Abstinence based recovery. Zero tolerance.
4) Gratitude rather than selfishness.
5) Honesty, open mindedness, and willingness.
6) Personal growth. Continuous self improvement.
7) Lifelong commitment. Avoiding complacency.
And so on. Regardless of what program you may choose (or lack of a program) you still have to embrace those principles. Without them you are doomed to relapse anyway, no matter what mode of recovery you choose to pursue. There are certain fundamentals that go along with successful sobriety, and I am still working on my own journey to unravel those mysteries.
What about you, have you found a clear path in beating your addiction once and for all? What program have you chosen, and what does your day to day recovery look like as a result? Is it working for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!