How does an alcoholic actually lose the desire to drink alcohol or take drugs? When you are stuck in addiction and you are miserable and you are struggling with your disease, it seems as if you will always want to drink alcohol, and you cannot imagine a time in your life when this would ever change.
In other words, the alcoholic who is stuck in their disease cannot really picture a life of freedom and happiness in sobriety. The reason for this is because their current existence is based entirely on the idea that they are only happy when they are “in the zone”–meaning that they have had just enough alcohol and/or drugs to get them properly buzzed, but not so much as to create chaos and negative consequences. Of course, because they are addicted, finding this zone becomes increasingly more difficult as their disease progresses, and eventually the zone will disappear entirely. For example, an alcoholic, if they stay alive long enough, will eventually progress to the point at which they can take a single drink and black out from it, which completely misses the “fun zone” when everything feels like a party. They go from sober and miserable to blacked out drunk in one single drink, with none of the “fun” in between that they are actually searching for.
In other words, as your tolerance evolves and your disease progresses, you have less and less actual “in the zone fun” that you desire from the alcohol and drugs. And yet your brain stubbornly clings to these memories of fun while you were drinking and insists that you can recreate that every single day if necessary, which the alcoholic then tries to do. But because they are in such deep denial, they fail to see that they are actually miserable about 99 percent of the time while they are stuck in this cycle, and they only rarely, if ever, get into that “fun zone” any more. Those were the good old days of their drinking, and those days are long gone. Now they are mostly miserable.
And yet the alcoholic can be in this state and even admit that they are miserable most of the time, yet insist that they would be even more miserable if they went to rehab and gave sobriety a fair chance. Again, this is just more denial–the alcoholic doesn’t really know how happy or how miserable they might be if they had a few months of sobriety under their belt and they were honestly working a recovery program. If they had done that in the past then they would likely still be sober. So they are operating out of a place of ignorance; they don’t truly know how happy and joyous and peaceful their life in recovery could be, yet they insist that they would be even more unhappy than they are in their drunken chaos.
It seems like a hopeless state, to be stuck at this level of denial, to have all of your peers, friends, and family trying to convince you to go get some help, to go to rehab, to give sobriety a chance. And yet the alcoholic remains stuck.
Even if they are forced into a situation in which they become temporarily sober–such as jail, an institution, or a trip to the hospital–they often will resent the fact that they are sober and go right back to the chaos and misery at the first touch of freedom.
So how then does an alcoholic ever turn this around? How do any alcoholics get sober and learn to live a better life in recovery? And when does the desire to drink go away?
Here is how it happens:
The alcoholic must reach their bottom. When I say “their bottom” I am talking specifically about that alcoholic’s point of ultimate misery and despair. It is different for every person, and some people will unfortunately expire before they reach that bottom, because alcoholism is dangerous and many different types of accidents can happen when drinking heavily that could cost someone their life.
If the alcoholic can avoid this fate, they will eventually reach a point of misery that is so low and so miserable that they finally can look at their fear of sobriety and honestly say “I don’t care how scared I am to get sober, I am sick of being miserable.”
Now realize that most alcoholics are not going to admit to being afraid of sobriety out loud to you. But make no mistake, they are afraid. It is their fear that keeps them drinking, period.
Fear is the only thing that drives them in their addiction, because they know about rehab, they know about AA meetings, and they refuse to go to them when they are stuck in their disease. Why do you think they are refusing? What could possibly be keeping them away from the solution that they know about? They know rehab exists, yet they refuse to go. Why?
I promise you, the only answer to this is fear. They are afraid to go to rehab, afraid to face a life without their crutch of alcohol and drugs, afraid to see if they might actually be successful. There are a million different variations of fear that might keep them stuck.
The way that they get past this fear, eventually, is that so many negative consequences pile up in their life, and they become so miserable and so unhappy in their disease, that they no longer care about anything or anyone. This is the point of desperation, this is the turning point, this is when they can look their fear dead in the eye and say “bring it on.” They no longer care about their fear because they no longer care about themselves. This is a state of being that dances close to suicidal. They are just so sick and tired of being miserable in addiction and they just want it all to go away.
That is the point that the alcoholic must reach in order to surrender and ask for help and go to rehab.
Surrender. Ask for help. Go to rehab.
Follow that up with AA meetings. Start working a program. This is the path to recovery.
There are some variations on this path, but that one works, and that is what most people end up doing.
Now even after you have surrendered completely and gone to rehab and you are now at, say, 5 weeks sober and you are attending AA meetings, you may notice that you still have some desire to drink. Or rather, you notice that your brain is thinking about taking a drink throughout the day. Call them cravings. You are craving alcohol throughout the day and one part of you really does, in fact, want to drink. The other part of you still wants sobriety. But the obsession to drink still lingers.
When does that go away?
This is going to vary a bit from person to person. For me personally, I was noticing that I had cravings all throughout the day in early recovery, and I wondered if they might be permanent. Someone told me that they would go away, and that “the obsession to drink would be lifted entirely,” as promised in AA, but I did not really believe it.
So somewhere around the 4 month point in my sobriety journey, I had a day when I was getting ready to go to sleep, and I realized something. I had not thought about drinking at all that day! Not once. And that was a miracle.
How did I get there? Simple. I surrendered, I asked for help, and I went to rehab. Then I started working a program like my life depended on it.