A reader writes in and asks: “Why can’t drug addicts and alcoholics just quit on their own?”
I can totally understand where this question is coming from, because I used to ask the same question….before I had ever picked up a drink or a drug. I thought alcoholics must be either lazy or stupid. Then my higher power played a little joke on me and I became an alcoholic…without my ever giving permission!
Thus is the nature of addiction and denial. By the time you realize it, it is too late to fix it with minimal effort.
And that is the key right there: addiction cannot be fixed with minimal effort. Denial is so pervasive because many of our problems actually can be fixed with only a modest effort. But overcoming addiction requires a monumental effort, as well as an ego-crushing admission of defeat. It’s no wonder that so many addicts ride it out for as long as they do before asking for help.
There are a couple of other reasons that you don’t see addicts quitting on their own:
1) A small percentage of addicts probably do quit on their own – but you never hear about it, because anyone who does so has “earned” the right to shed the label of “drug addict.” If all you did was decide to quit one day, and had very little problems doing so, would you still call yourself a drug addict? Probably not. The definition of addiction includes the fact that we can’t quit easily on our own. Those who quit on their own might shed the label of addiction altogether.
2) Most who try to quit on their own eventually fail – most addicts and alcoholics that I’ve met in recovery stated that they tried desperately to quit on their own but could not. There is overwhelming evidence that doing so is extremely difficult or even impossible.
3) Incentive to carry the message – when an addict finally finds recovery, there is a natural tendency to want to share it with others who might be struggling–to show them what we have found and that it is possible for them too. The side benefit of this is that reaching out to others almost always helps us strengthen our own recovery. So there are definitely benefits to networking with others and reaching out in recovery.
So essentially it is the nature of denial and the “thinking problem” that prevents the addict from unraveling their own problem. Someone once stated that you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created that problem. You have to somehow rise above your current level in order to overcome addiction, and that is going to require some assistance.
This is what makes group therapy, 12 step meetings, and sponsorship so powerful. When we consult others for guidance we empower our own lives by taking some direction from them.