Are there risks in being alcoholic and not arresting your disease or taking action to get help?
You bet there are.
The end results of drug or alcohol addiction are well documented and fairly predictable. They are spoken like a mantra in AA meetings everywhere: “Jails, institutions, and death.”
If you don’t take action and do something in order to change your life, you can be sure that you are slowly (or perhaps quickly) moving towards one of these three outcomes.
What happens as alcoholism progresses
As you progress in your disease, things just keep getting worse and worse.
One of the things that will happen is that you will require more and more alcohol in order to properly medicate yourself. Whereas you used to get nicely sauced up with a six pack of beer, you will now require most of bottle of hard liquor. This is simply due to an increase in tolerance that happens naturally over time.
Not only will your body change during your addiction, but the way that you adapt to being drunk will change as well. Eventually it will become perfectly normal for you to be self medicated all the time. It will become normal for you to be drunk or at least tipsy. And after it becomes normal for you to be like for extended periods of time, it will even become possible for you to feel pain, anxiety, and frustration while you are drunk.
And what happens when you are already drunk but you are frustrated and wish that you could self medicate even further? What happens when the only thing left for you to do is to black out completely? Where is the fun in that? What kind of life is that to look forward to, when you are so miserable that you would prefer to be in a blackout rather than being sober enough to at least know what is going on in the room. Instead, as a practicing alcoholic, you will grow to prefer oblivion.
This is the end result of alcoholism if you do not end up in jail, dead, or in an institution first. You will become so hopelessly dependent on alcohol that you will not want to interact with other people, do anything other than drink, or go anywhere exciting. Life will be reduced to simply self medicating every day. What is the point?
Denial is when you are in this state (or getting closer to it every day) and yet you still try to convince yourself that you are having fun. Or that you can drink alcohol and thus have fun whenever you want, so long as other people are not screwing it up for you. This is part of how denial works, you stand fast to the claim that alcohol can make everything fun in your life again so long as no one screws it up first. That way there are plenty of people to blame and fingers to point at others in case you find yourself unhappy. “You would drink too if you had my problems” and so on.
Bottom line is, you don’t want to explore the endgame that is alcoholism. It is not pretty, fun, or exciting in any way. Instead it is pathetic, sad, and depressing on nearly every level. Avoid it at all costs. The only way to do this is to take action and ask for help once you realize you are on a downward spiral.
Very few people get sober without going to rehab first
Is it possible to get sober without ever going to rehab?
Sure it is possible. People did it in the past before rehab centers existed.
Do I recommend it though?
Of course not. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of inpatient rehab, where their only goal is to help you get clean and sober?
Why wouldn’t you take advantage of the controlled environment, where there are no drugs or alcohol available, and you can all but insure that you will get at least 28 days sober just by setting foot in the door? Why would you not want to take advantage of that?
Why would you not want to take advantage of the fact that they introduce you to 12 step programs, teach you things about recovery and addiction, connect you with peers who can help support you, and so on?
If you had the option of going to an alcoholism treatment center and getting all of that help and support, why wouldn’t you do it?
I can think of one good reason why you might not take advantage of inpatient rehab and all that it has to offer:
Because you might not really want to get sober yet.
Don’t worry, I won’t be offended if that idea upsets you. I have been there myself. In fact I have been there myself more than once.
Not only that, but I also worked in an alcoholism rehab center for 5 plus years, and so I had the opportunity to watch many people come into treatment themselves. I had the opportunity to watch many struggling alcoholics try to talk themselves out of staying. I got to watch people bargain with themselves, to try to justify leaving rehab early, and try to convince themselves and others that they were not going to go get drunk. Even though they were so anxious they could not stay in one seat for 5 minutes, and they were climbing they walls and they wanted to leave rehab after being there for 6 hours, but no, they are not going to go drink. They just “don’t need rehab.” That’s it. They realized that they don’t really need treatment.
I have watched this unfold several times. Not everyone who walks into rehab is fully ready to surrender. Not everyone who walks into treatment is ready to go through with this sort of life change. Sometimes they are scared. Or sometimes they realize that they are just not done drinking yet. When I was working in rehab I watched this happen many times.
And every single time someone wanted to leave rehab early to go drink, they lied to themselves and to the staff. It was so easy to see it happen, it was so obvious that it was a lie (“no, I’m really not going to go drink, I just don’t want to be here in rehab any more, I swear!”). I watched this happen over and over again, and the results were the same every time. The person would lie to themselves, they would leave rehab, and then later we would learn that they relapsed. Nearly every time they would end up coming back for more treatment at a later date.
This has to do with surrender. If you are in rehab, stay in rehab and do what they tell you to do. If you are not in rehab yet but you are struggling with alcoholism, then you have two basic choices:
1) Keep struggling with alcoholism. Keep drinking.
2) Go to rehab, and do what they tell you to do. Surrender.
That is the either/or choice that you have.
You want to know how to spot someone who is in denial?
I can tell you how to spot someone in denial. It is very simple. Offer them that choice up there, and watch as they figure out a third option that lies in between the two. That is someone who is denial.
Your lifetime happiness quotient if you avoid going to rehab
Let’s say that you are struggling with alcoholism right now, and you are 30 years old. Maybe you have 50 or 60 more years left.
If you go to rehab and you manage to remain sober for the remainder of those years, you will experience a certain amount of joy and happiness in your lifetime.
If you fail to go to rehab and you continue to drink and struggle with alcoholism, you will experience a lessor amount of joy and happiness in your (probably shorter) lifetime.
The question is:
How big a difference is it?
The difference is huge. I would say that you cannot really put a price on the level of happiness that you will achieve if you get even a few years of steady recovery after leaving rehab. If you achieve “permanent sobriety” and go the rest of your life then this is absolutely huge. There is just no comparison between this and the level of misery that you will experience in addiction.
I think it is important to note too that it is not just:
Addiction = unhappiness.
Recovery = happy.
That is not accurate at all. In fact, it is much more dramatic of a difference than that.
Because what really happens is that if you are stuck in addiction for the rest of your life then it is a constant downward spiral. Things just keep getting worse and worse over time. Not only do you become less healthy, but you also become more miserable, more isolated, and so on. Everything gets worse. And it just keeps progressing. Then you finally hit a wall: Either death, jail, or an institution.
Now contrast this with recovery. If you stay clean and sober for decades on end, then the exact opposite of this happens. Not only do you avoid all of this misery, but your life starts to fill up with real joy and happiness. And not only that, but it continues to get better and better over time. It is an upward spiral of increasing joy and benefits. You don’t just become happy because you are sober, you become increasingly happier as you move forward. It is up and up, as far as the eye can see. It really does get better and better!
Life expectancy for alcoholism and that of a sober alcoholic
How long can you expect to live if you stay stuck in addiction, versus getting clean and sober on a permanent basis?
The difference is huge if you look at the real world numbers.
One thing to keep in mind is the idea of “cross addiction” as well. Most alcoholics are also addicted to cigarettes. The corollary of this is that many people in recovery from alcoholism eventually quit smoking cigarettes. So this becomes a huge double whammy for most alcoholics, whether they are in recovery or not. Not only does the alcoholism reduce their life expectancy, but the smoking addiction on top of that is not helping the cause either. Conversely, if they sober up and also quit smoking cigarettes (likely) then their life expectancy will increase dramatically.
The data on this is all over the place, but one government table that I looked at estimated that you would generally die roughly 15 to 25 years younger than you really should if you are a typical alcoholic who never gets any help for your disease.
The shocking thing about studying data like this is also in how fast the numbers will turn in your favor if you quit drinking. This is true even if you are near the tail end of the data curve, due to “the liver’s amazing ability to heal itself.” I don’t really know the specifics of how that works, I just know that the data supports an increased lifespan for alcoholics who sober up. You quit drinking, you live longer. You quit drinking, you become happier.
Complicating factors of alcoholism (such as smoking)
Most alcoholics end up getting addicted to cigarettes at some point. The two addictions just seem to go so well together.
The mortality data for alcoholics who also smoke is particularly scary. It is sort of like 1 plus 1 equals 4, rather than 2. Doing both of these addictions tends to kill people much quicker than you might expect.
If you keep drinking heavily there is also an increase risk over time that you will encounter some sort of deadly accident, a drunk driving, a fall down the stairs, or something. It is sort of like rolling the dice, over and over again, hoping that you number does not come up. Risky behaviors over an extended period of time does not put the odds in your favor. So you may see an older alcoholic or two, but you don’t see tons and tons of old alcoholics. Because they are mostly gone. A few sneak by and survive into old age, but they are not good odds.
Why you should go to rehab
Aren’t these good enough reasons to do something?
What would be a better reason to do…..anything? Other than getting a better life, a happier life, and getting more of it?
Would could possibly be more compelling than that?
Or maybe you are in the frame of mind that I was stuck in for so many years, and you don’t believe that this better life is available to you. Perhaps you do not think that you could really be happy in recovery, that you could get sober and somehow become happy as a result.
I did not believe it either. I thought that I would stay miserable if I ever got sober.
Boy was I wrong.
The truth is that I did not stay miserable for long at all. In fact, I would say that in only a few short months I was already happier in my recovery than I ever was when I was drinking.
But here is a little clue about that:
I did not realize that right away. It probably took me about six months or so before I realized that I had been happier over the last few months than I ever was in my addiction.
This is important. It is important because you can forget to be grateful in recovery, and it can cost you your life. That is why they have so many AA meetings that focus on gratitude exclusively. It is always time well spent, to figure out why you are happy with your life, and why you should not be bitter or discontent.
You should get sober because you get a chance to experience real joy again, without having to medicate yourself in order to do it. You can be happy again and actually remember what made you happy, and why you are happy, and the circumstances that surrounded that happiness.
If you continue to drink then you already know what you are going to get. You know what alcoholism is like. You know exactly how it will make you feel. It is not going to suddenly change one day. You are probably secretly hoping that maybe you will figure out how to maximize your drinking so that you are deliriously happy all of the time, and not miserable all the time like you normally feel. You are probably secretly hoping that the rest of the world (that seems to be out to get you) will suddenly wise up and start treating you right instead so that you can finally be happy. (Hint, if you agree with that statement, you are in serious denial).
If you have been struggling with alcoholism lately, just take a look at the last few months, and then extrapolate this out into the future. Imagine that it gets a little worse, gets a little better, then it gets worse than it has ever been, then it gets a little better, then worse again…..and so on. It will never end. Ultimately it keeps getting worse (interrupted by brief periods where it seems like it gets better for a while). Once you realize the futility of this cycle, you will be much closer to surrender.
Surrender is the key. You have to give up the struggle, the fight for control. Really this is what you are battling with. You are trying to control your happiness, your future, your alcohol intake. You can’t control it though. Least of all your happiness. The only way to regain control is to let go of alcohol entirely. Give up. Surrender to win. Let go of everything and just ask for help. Ask for help from someone you trust, and then do everything that they tell you to do. Don’t second guess them. Don’t go find a second opinion. When they take you to an AA meeting, shut up and go to the meeting. When the take you to detox or to rehab, just go to rehab.
If you don’t go to rehab then you run the risk of dying miserably. And the real risk is that this may be several decades in the future. You may just keep struggling to find happiness while you self medicate with drugs and alcohol. The truth is that you will never find it, because it is a false promise. There was only a brief glimpse of happiness when you first discovered your drug of choice, and that was gone forever. You can never get it back. The idea of permanent happiness through drinking or drugs was a lie. It wasn’t true. And it fooled you for a long time.
But now you can take it back. You can take your life back, and regain control, if you are willing to surrender and take the plunge into sobriety.
It takes guts to be sober.
So much easier to just continue to self medicate, and be miserable.
Which path will you choose?
Will you risk not going to rehab? Will you risk a lifetime of misery, when you could have real joy and happiness instead?