Many people who are not experienced with recovery often wonder if there is a best way to stop drinking alcohol.
Most people have heard of AA, but are there any alternatives to the popular 12 step program? Do they really work? Does the 12 step program really work? And so on.
I wondered about these questions myself when I was still struggling with alcoholism. Unfortunately, no one could really give me a straight answer because, quite honestly, there really isn’t a straight answer to give. AA works for some people, some of the time. The alternatives probably work about the same (which is to say, not real consistently), and in addition to that the alternatives to AA are not widespread or widely known. In fact, no one really mentioned them to me when I was seeing counselors and therapists and I was asking if there were alternatives to AA. The people I spoke with basically said “no,” there were not any alternatives. While this is technically not true, for practical purposes it might just as well be true. Because what the therapists knew (that I did not) was that these alternatives were not really widespread, there was no support system to speak of, and there was no real hope for a newly recovering alcoholic who needed advice and direction RIGHT NOW.
In other words, at the very least, the struggling alcoholic who has just hit the wall of surrender needs immediate help. They need direction. They can’t be preached at with some long term strategy at that moment, that isn’t going to help them at all. There is a time and place for everything. When you are just first getting sober you can’t really take in a whole lot, you can’t necessarily make long term decisions for better health. You need direction. You need to be told what to do. In a sense, going to short term treatment is a great way to accomplish this.
In fact, you may not agree with the methods that a rehab center uses, but that treatment center might still be able to help you. Most people stop short at that idea and say “Really? A rehab can help me even if I don’t believe in their program or want to follow it at all?” The truth is that if you are at least willing to go to rehab and hear them out, then there is a chance that you might be able to break free from addiction.
For example, I know of two people in recovery who were homeless at one time. When they became homeless they checked into a shelter that was in their particular city that they lived in. While they were there they had to enroll in a program for alcoholics in order to be able to keep staying. The program was based on religion, though I am not sure which one. In the end it probably doesn’t matter. These two guys were desperate enough that they were willing to stay in that place and “endure” the religious teaching even though they did not agree with it.
Now in the end they were not “converted,” either. I think that is important to point out. I caught up with them much later (because they were bringing AA meetings into the rehab that I worked at) and they told me that they were both doing well in recovery. And they were able to put their opinions on the shelf and do what they needed to do in order to stay sober. They were willing to “compromise” their beliefs in order to get the help that they needed.
This is an amazing story if you think about it, because what you see in real life is almost always the complete opposite of this. Meaning that most people would end up that homeless shelter, find out that “they are cramming religion down our throats,” and they would be right out of there and back drinking again. They have their excuse, religion was being “forced” on them. So they can go drink and feel justified in doing so, because all they wanted was some help and yet the people who would help them pushed their religion on them.
There is an important lesson here and it is this:
The method doesn’t matter.
The two guys that I met in recovery were able to separate the religious stuff from their sobriety. They were respectful of the place they were staying and therefore they “endured” the teachings of the place. The principles of recovery are the same regardless. You stop drinking, you stop doing addictive drugs, and you start building a better life for yourself. You take positive action each and every day. You move forward by making healthy decisions. This ain’t rocket science. In all honesty it does NOT require 12 steps, nor does it really require a religious based program either. People have packaged up recovery and tried to frame it in those terms (Christian based, 12 step based) because apparently this is better than generalizing?
Me, I generalize. I don’t necessarily need the religious framework, nor do I need the 12 step framework. I can work my recovery just fine with “personal growth” as my only guide (it has been working for 12+ years now).
The best way to stop drinking is the way that works for you.
It is your responsibility to find out what that is.
Some people do well with the 12 step program. Others do well with religious based recovery. Some oddballs out there like me just use a holistic approach, get lots of exercise, and stay motivated to keep taking positive action. Whatever works for you. But the key is to take action and find out what really works. Most people are too lazy to do this, or they are too afraid of sobriety to do it.
No matter how you work your long term recovery, one thing that might help you is the fact that early recovery is usually pretty similar and predictable. Meaning that most people go through much the same process in early recovery, even though their paths diverge a great deal in long term recovery.
Surrender, disruption, then….what?
In my opinion the best way to stop drinking is to go to inpatient rehab.
There are several reasons for this. The first reason is because most inpatient treatment centers will also have a medical detox (if they don’t, you would normally have to detox somewhere else first, such as in a hospital).
Detox is really important. This is the starting point. If you still have alcohol in your system then you can’t very well make any progress at all (other than to surrender). You need this baseline in order to get started in recovery and therefore everyone who is serious about quitting drinking should go to detox. Failure to do so can be dangerous or even fatal, depending on how deep your dependency is to alcohol.
Second of all you need to learn something about how to live a sober life. I have watched several people who came into treatment, went through the detox portion of it, decided that this was all they needed, and then they proceed to leave rehab (early) and go back out into the real world. This is always, always a mistake. I have never watched a single case where the person was happy that they left rehab early. It always ends in misery and relapse.
If you don’t learn something at rehab then you are doomed to repeat your old behaviors. So the idea is that you go to meetings, go to groups, attend lectures, and start learning a new way to live. A way to live that does not involve self medicating every single day. If you can’t be bothered to learn this new way of life then you are clearly not ready to stop drinking yet. Unfortunately you will have to go back out and get a whole lot more pain and misery in your life first. Only then might you be able to surrender fully and become willing to change.
So first you surrender. This is the breaking point, where you decide that you don’t want to go on living the way that you have been living. After you surrender you become willing to ask for help. The corollary to this is, if you are not yet willing to ask for help and advice about not drinking, then you are probably not really ready to stop drinking. Many people say things like “I’m ready to quit drinking, I just don’t need your help to do it….or anyone else’s help either.” Such a person is destined for relapse. They are definitely not ready to stop drinking. Their attitude is a clear giveaway.
After you surrender the next step is to find some form of disruption. The surrender is the decision to change your life, the disruption is where you take action and you disrupt your pattern of drinking or using drugs every day. Disruption means that you go to a protected environment where you are not going to be tempted to drink or use drugs. This is what rehab is set up to do. It is a controlled environment and therefore it is perfect for disrupting addictions.
Take the worst addict or alcoholic in the world. Throw them into detox and a 28 day program. Check back with them 28 days later and guess what? You have a clean and sober person. This is disruption. That is what it does.
Of course the tricky thing here is that it does not actually “cure” anyone. While you are in rehab it is easy to be sober. This is true of even the most hard core alcoholics and drug addicts. I know this to be true because: A) I was a hard core alcoholic and drug addict myself, and B) I worked in a rehab and detox unit for 5 years, seeing many cases including some that were even “harder” than my own. Trust me, detox is not that difficult. It is not that hard to be in rehab. It may be challenging to surrender and actually GO to rehab, but once you are there it is actually pretty easy.
And then of course you have to leave rehab at some point. Which is where it all gets hairy again, unfortunately.
It is the follow through and the long term strategy that determine your success in recovery
Like I said above, it is easy to be sober while you are in rehab. Even the worst drunk can handle it without too much problem.
The problem comes in after you leave treatment.
This is why you need either:
1) A support program such as AA with daily meetings, OR
2) A long term strategy of personal growth (that functions as a continuous form of relapse prevention).
My method is #2. Most people seem to go with #1. Like I said though, whatever works for you. If you relapse, get back on the horse and try again. Don’t wallow in misery, do something! Take action. Ask for help. There is always another method to try, or something more that you can learn about yourself in recovery (so long as you are willing…willingness is key).
Most people who leave rehab do not do either #1 or #2 above. Some people actually do both, we see those people in AA meetings and they refer to them as “the winners” in recovery. They go to AA meetings and they are actually walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk (which many now do so well in AA).
Of course, you don’t have to do both in order to stay sober. This is because the fundamental principles of sobriety are the same no matter what program you choose to use (or use no program at all). The fundamentals are always the same. And what are those fundamental concepts? Let’s see:
3) Learning (a new way to live).
4) Support (so you don’t go crazy thinking you are unique, because you’re not!).
5) Personal growth (this is the whole key to recovery, whether you are in AA, some other program, or just forging your own path).
Those are the fundamental principles of recovery. If you follow the AA program then you will hopefully touch on all of those concepts at one point or another (though in my opinion it is a messy way to try to hit them all). Depending on your level of self motivation, you might just do your own thing in recovery (without formal recovery programs) and strive for personal growth on your own. Again, whatever works for you. Be honest with yourself about that, above all.
The best strategy is based on personal growth
All strategies lead to personal growth.
If you are in AA and you relapse, I can assure you that you stopped growing as a person a long time prior to that relapse. You got complacent. Complacency is a lack of personal growth.
If you are not in AA and you relapse, same thing. You got lazy. You stopped learning and growing as a person.
See the pattern here? It is all about personal growth. You can pursue growth in AA, or you can pursue it in some other way (holistically), but you must be moving forward and making progress. Otherwise you become vulnerable to relapse.
If your strategy (or program) does not lead you to pursue personal growth then you are in danger of relapse.
One of the biggest challenges of long term sobriety is figuring out how to overcome complacency. I know of people in AA who relapsed after 20+ years sober. That is just crazy. What went wrong? They got lazy. They can come back and tell their tale, and it always reduces to the same fundamentals: They stopped learning, they stopped growing, they stopped pushing themselves to improve. If they happen to be in AA then they might use different labels for this stuff, but it is the same thing: “They stopped working with other alcoholics, they stopped attending meetings, they stopped working the steps.” You don’t need to be in AA or follow those exact ideas in order to suffer from complacency and end up relapsing as a result. A lack of personal growth is a lack of personal growth. Getting stuck is getting stuck.
Incremental growth by fixing negative stuff in your life
So you might be asking yourself at this point:
“What exactly is this personal growth stuff that he is talking about? How do I go about doing that?”
I will get specific as I can here and lay it out for you.
There are many paths, of which you should probably choose one and stick with it for a long while.
The 12 steps are one such path. You will want to find a “winner” in AA who can guide you through them (a sponsor).
I don’t necessarily recommend this to everyone though. For me, I wanted to find my own path instead.
The way to do this is through a process:
1) Evaluate your life (internally) and your life situation (external stuff). Find all the negative and bad stuff. If you need to, consult with others for advice and feedback on this. Such as by asking: “What do you think my biggest problem or hang up is?” Or, “what do you think I most need to be working on in my life right now?” Ask lots of different people. People you trust, and people with more sobriety than you have. Always be evaluating and assessing your life (both internally and externally).
2) Prioritize the changes you want to make. An external change might be “you work at a crummy job where everyone drinks.” So you might try to change jobs, careers, etc. That is an external change.
An internal change might be something like “I suffer from resentment or self pity or shame or guilt from time to time.” So you might need to do some work (internally) in order to get rid of these destructive mental cycles. Again, you may need to consult with other people in order to learn how to release shame, or guilt, or anger, or self pity, etc.
3) Every time that you evaluate, prioritize, and then take action to fix something, you should express gratitude that your life just got a little better. Then, you should regroup and do it all over again. Continuous improvement. If you keep doing this then your life will get better and better. If you keep focusing on eliminating these negative problems then you will also prevent relapse. This is how real “work” is done in recovery–you must evaluate the negative stuff in your life, then take action and eliminate it. Did you expect anything less than this? Of course it takes real work! But the rewards are worth it.
And again, you can do this with a program of recovery (or through a program of recovery), or you can do it on your own.
Me, I started out in AA but after about a year I drifted into doing my own thing. But I still push myself to explore these ideas, to keep evaluating my life, and to keep doing the work. I just don’t do it under the guise of a formal recovery program. Not really that big of a difference, or that big of a deal. DO WHAT WORKS!
Your daily habits of success
At the highest levels of recovery you will want to take your overall strategy (AA, personal growth, holistic health, religious based recovery, etc.) and then apply that to your daily life in order to produce real action.
Action as in daily habits. If you find something that works well for you then you should be doing it every single day.
In addition to this, I believe it is important to use a holistic approach when it comes to your daily routine, so that you do not allow your addiction to sneak up on you. An example of this would be exercise and nutrition as part of your daily habits, which in turn would prevent illness and disease which could definitely cause a relapse under the right conditions (I have lost many friends in recovery to relapse after they got sick or ill…all part of the perfect storm).
Another example of this would be the daily exercise that I engage in because it creates such a powerful endorphin rush and helps to reduce cravings for nicotine, drugs, and alcohol (as well as having other benefits too).
Holistic health habits can work together and enhance each other, so that once you are doing many of them, your overall recovery becomes stronger than expected due to the synergistic effect.