The most important thing for overcoming alcoholism is…

The most important thing for overcoming alcoholism is…


What is the most important thing for overcoming alcoholism?

Complete abstinence.

Duh. Total abstinence from alcohol. That should be priority number one, and this is obvious to any alcoholic who has battled with the disease.

Unbelievably, though, there are “professionals” in the field of substance abuse that feel that we are setting our sites too high by expecting recovering alcoholics to maintain a lifetime of continuous sobriety. These professionals are saying that we need to “rethink our measure of success” and that we should “stop measuring success only in terms of total abstinence from alcohol.”


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Dr. Nora Volkow of the NIDA states that “Our expectations for treatment are high” and that we “should also expect that those who are addicted may require multiple episodes of treatment continuing over the course of the disorder. We need to study further how to improve abstinence rates and quality of care.” She goes on to say that we should start incorporating other measures of success, like whether or not a person can stay out of legal trouble, or if they can stay successfully employed.

These are dangerous ideas, in my opinion, and we should not allow ourselves to start down a road where we start to measure success in recovery by anything other than total abstinence. It bears repeating that if you are successful in moderating your alcohol use, then you are not an alcoholic, and therefore do not even apply to this discussion. We are talking about alcoholics here who cannot control their drinking, and therefore need some sort of recovery program in order to maintain any sort of meaningful sobriety.

The question of “measuring success” without using “total abstinence” as the benchmark is a very slippery slope. How easy it would be for me to say “Hey, I only drank 3 beers or less on 90 percent of the days last month!” What kind of recovery is that? If you lower the bar even a little bit, it throws the entire idea of recovery down the toilet. One weekend slip up could erase tons of progress that someone made while they were sober. For an alcoholic, one slip-up could do a lot worse than that, actually. But according to our new measure of success, that one “slip-up” is supposed to be alright? That’s just crazy!

I can sympathize a bit with the treatment industry, because the success rates for maintaining sobriety are actually pretty bad. We all know this and accept it as fact by now. But the world has also come to terms with the fact that addiction and alcoholism is a serious issue, and we know that treatment is an uphill battle…a true struggle for any addict or alcoholic. We know it’s hard, and society is starting to accept that there is probably no magical cure for it.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t winners out there. There are thousands of people around the world who are working an active program of recovery and–as a result–are achieving long term sobriety. Real recovery is happening every day. There is hope out there. Anyone can recover if they want to badly enough, and there are many people in recovery who are willing to reach out and help you. If you want it.

Always remember: the most important thing in my recovery is that I do not use drugs or alcohol today. Period.

The rest is just details. The steps are there to help you deal with life after you have made the firm decision for abstinence.

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