The alcoholic swears they are done drinking for good this time. Maybe the are for real. And maybe they are full of crap. How can you tell?
It is important to gauge how ready the alcoholic or addict in your life is when it comes to getting them some help and turning their life around.
Because it is a huge emotional drain on you to constantly hope for their big turnaround. Most friends and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics spend a lot of time and a lot of energy wishing that things were different, and in some cases, trying to persuade the addict to take action.
All of your emotional energy might be for nothing, depending on the addict’s state of denial. They might be nowhere near quitting.
And it is easy to get wrapped up in false hope, because the typical addict or alcoholic will say that they are going to change for real this time, only to let you down, over and over again.
Part of dealing effectively with their addiction is in recognizing when they are serious about wanting to change, and when they are still stuck in denial. In many cases they actually believe their own lies, and thus have no real power to predict when they are actually going to sober up for good. This is the trap of addiction.
So what can you do? Learn to recognize their BS. Learn to recognize when they are still trapped in denial, and when they are not likely to succeed in their so called attempt to quit drinking and drugging forever.
What good does this do, you ask? It allows you to conserve your emotional energy. It teaches you how to detach, and where to draw your boundaries, to keep yourself from getting hurt.
I realize that their addiction is going to hurt you, regardless. But you can still draw a line in the sand and firmly stake your sanity on one side of it, and their addiction on the other. You can be strong and shield yourself from some of the emotional wreckage. And while you do this, you can help to push them closer to a moment of surrender, because you will no longer be enabling them.
This starts when you form an awareness.
You form this awareness by recognizing the games that they play.
These are the games. They are red flags to show you when the addict is full of BS, and is not ready to stop drinking or using drugs yet.
They back out of commitments to get help as soon as they start to feel better physically
I see this one happen all the time, because I work in a drug rehab. People get in to the program and go through detox, and they start to feel good again. They have been abusing their body with drugs and chemicals for so long that they had forgotten what it felt like to just be normal and healthy. So when they first experience this after detoxing, they get overconfident and feel like they can conquer the world.
They get to feeling good physically and they think to themselves: “Why would I want to screw this up? I feel great! I’m not going to relapse.”
And so they go on to rationalize: “Why do I need to go through more treatment or counseling? I feel good again, and I have no urge to screw this up by using drugs or alcohol.”
So essentially what they have done is that they have talked themselves into believing that they are cured.
There is another version of this that they refer to as the “pink cloud.” The idea is the same, the person is feeling good again now that they are clean and sober and they may become overconfident as a result. Eventually, reality always balances things out, and that is when things can get tricky if they are still being overconfident about their recovery.
So for anyone who first commits to get professional help, then says that they do not need it–watch out. They are most likely headed for relapse.
They are still drunk or high on drugs when they tell you they are stopping for good.
This is another one that should be obvious in most cases. Anyone who is claiming that they are going to sober up for good this time while they are still drinking is not to be believed.
Of course the problem is that when the family has a big flare up over the addiction, the person is generally going to be under the influence at the time. When this happens, there is no real way to have a productive argument, because you are not really arguing with the person, you are arguing with their addiction. The alcoholic or addict will probably say pretty much anything or engage in whatever manipulation they can in order to try to keep the peace and keep their addiction going. The may agree to things that they never intend to follow through with, simply to get out of an argument.
This is one reason why interventions are always set up to catch the person when they are pretty much sober. You cannot count on anything that the person commits to while they are drunk or high.
They say they are done for good, but they are not willing to follow any of your suggestions in regards to getting some help for their problem.
The addict or alcoholic who has truly surrendered to their addiction is likely to have their head hanging down low and will be willing to do what you tell them to do. So if you tell them “I called a local treatment center and set you up for admission there and we are going in tomorrow” they would simply say “Fine. I’ll go.”
Now if the addict immediately raises their eyebrow and gets all bent out of shape and says “What treatment center? Which one are you talking about? I’m not just going to go anywhere!” and so on, then that is a major red flag right there.
If you are trying to get them professional help, and they are struggling against it, then they are probably not done using drugs and alcohol.
You see, the state of surrender that is necessary for a person to get clean and sober is actually pretty extreme. It is quite a deep state of surrender. In other words, the person who is at this point of total surrender is not going to be fighting with you, trying to control things, or being argumentative. They will be open to whatever you suggest in most cases. This is the point where they are actually ready to change their life.
So if they are not compliant with suggestions for professional help, you know that they probably not ready to stop. This is a very strong indicator.
They tell you they are done drinking and using drugs forever but they are not willing to let go of toxic relationships that are no good for them.
I see this one a lot as well. Typically, addicts and alcoholics (especially younger ones) have friends or peers who they use drugs or drink with. This creates a huge problem when they finally get clean and sober.
Many times, a young person who is stuck in addiction will have an entire network of friends who also get high. If they are not willing to move on and find a new set of friends, then they have no real chance at staying clean and sober.
Likewise, sometimes an addict or alcohol will have one single friend who they are very close with and they refuse to give up. If this person is a strong influence on them in terms of drug and alcohol use, then they are doomed to stay stuck in addiction until they can see that this friend is no good for them.
They have a saying in recovery: “You have to change people, places, and things.” Meaning, you cannot keep going around the same old crowd that you used to get drunk or high with. It just doesn’t work.
So if someone says they are going to overcome their addiction, but they are unwilling to part with those bad influences, then you know that it is not quite time for them to get clean yet.
They say they are quitting drugs and alcohol forever but they say they cannot give up their questionable job or career that puts them at high risk for relapse.
When I was stuck in my active addiction and still drinking and drugging every day, I had a job where everybody pretty much used drugs as well. I don’t think this was a mistake. I had gravitated towards such a job because at the time it fit my lifestyle.
When friends and family were trying to convince me to quit using drugs, I was not willing to give up this job. This was a sure sign that I was not really ready to stop using. Why? Because there was no way I could be clean and continue to work there.
This same idea plays out over and over again for people who sell drugs. They think they can get clean and continue to sell drugs and make good money at it. Of course this never works out in the end because they are too close to the addiction, to the lifestyle, and to the people who have influence on them.
If you know that their job is no good for them, and they refuse to give that job up, then you know they are not quite ready for recovery. When they have fully surrendered to their addiction, they will no longer care about their job.
They say they want to stop using but they continue to struggle for control in every situation, rather than letting go and surrendering.
Working in a drug rehab center gives you a lot of insight over the years. Because so many people who relapse eventually come back for more treatment, you get a clear idea of what attitudes and mindsets actually work, and which ones do not.
I can tell you based on experience an observation that the ones who are control freaks do not seem to fare so well in recovery. What has to happen is that the person needs to let go of their need to control everything. They need to stop fighting to dominate every situation and just go along for the ride for a while and see what happens.
Sometimes you see a person in early recovery and they are just saying all the right things. They have all of their ducks in a row and they have their meetings lined up and they know where they are going for aftercare and so on. And their attitude is not necessarily cocky, but it is still not quite the right mindset that is needed. They lack humility. They are saying the right things instead of saying “I don’t know.”
And ultimately, we all know that everything does not always go our way. We don’t always get to be in the driver’s seat, 100 percent of the time. To succeed in early recovery, you really have to let go of this constant need for control and just let things unfold around you. It is not enough to just quit the drugs and the alcohol–you actually have to become open to learning a new way to live. If the addict has not hit bottom yet, then they will not be able to relinquish this need for control, and thus will not be able to stay clean.
They say that they know they need to stop drinking or using drugs, but deep down they know that they don’t want to.
“I know I need to stop drinking. I know it is killing me.”
And yet, they continue to drink. Why is that?
The reason is because we do not do what we need to do, we do what we want to do. Our wants dictate our actions, not our needs. This is how we are wired. We do not respond to our needs, unless they also match up well with what we want.
A big part of denial has to do with this separation. An addict can admit that they are on a destructive path, yet they do not want to change. This is very typical. Every addict encounters this at some point in their journey. The consequences continue to mount up in their life and become too big to ignore. They can no longer deny that drugs or alcohol are a part of their problem.
However, they might still be stuck in denial. Why? Because they do not want to stop. Therefore, they will rearrange things in their mind to justify their continued using. “I know I need to stop, but….” That is the basic structure of their denial.
Some people have multiple problems, and they can shift the blame away from their drug or alcohol use. They might realize that drug use is part of their problem, but until they grasp that it is their biggest problem, they are unlikely to take action to change it.
So watch out for the “need/want structure of thinking.” If they say they need to quit but they don’t want to, then guess what? They won’t quit.
They say that they will quit for good if and when X happens.
Setting conditions is a major red flag. When they say they will quit when X happens, be very cautious of this. They are lying to themselves, in most cases.
I see this happen over and over again with pregnancy. “I will quit drinking for sure once the baby is born.” Guess what? It doesn’t work that way. I see it over and over again at the treatment center.
People think that a life-altering circumstance (such as a pregnancy) has the power to change their addiction. They are wrong.
Part of this is a trick we play on ourselves about the future. We believe that an event will make it easier to quit in the future. It is an easy trick of the mind, to imagine that things will come easier for us in the future.
Of course the future never comes, as it is always right now. And the only time you can decide to quit doing drugs and alcohol is right now. Simply delaying your decision for the future is not making a decision at all. This is classic denial that is easy to get wrapped up in.
Just remember this: future circumstances do not make it easier to quit drugs or alcohol. Ever. When we try to argue that it will be easier in the future, we are lying to ourselves.
They say that they are going to stop using X but continue to use Y.
This is another classic trick that most drug addicts will try to employ at least once in their career of addiction and drug abuse: they will try to switch away from their drug of choice and use another different drug in order to maintain themselves.
So for example, someone who is addicted to cocaine might decide that they are going to leave the cocaine alone forever and only smoke marijuana. This seems reasonable to them and when they first try the idea it seems to work well for them, so this is–once again–another form of denial. They are lying to themselves and they actually believe their own lie.
Another popular example is when an alcoholic notices that they tend to get into real trouble when they drink hard liquor, but they seem to be able to control the beer a bit better. So they attempt to swear of liquor forever. And again, this works well the first time they try it, and so it seems like a valid solution for them. More denial. They really believe that they will stick to their new beer routine and never again have any problems with alcohol.
Switching from one drug to another, or switching from liquor to beer or whatever–none of it works. An addict is an addict, and putting any drug into their system is always going to lead them back to their drug of choice eventually.
They might fool themselves for a short while, but eventually they will fall back into their old patterns of abuse. The only other option is that they might end up becoming addicted to an even worse and more dangerous drug than what they started on.
If they are truly an addict or alcoholic then total abstinence from all mood and mind altering chemicals is going to be their only real solution. So when they try to hang on to one drug or one form of their drug (such as beer), then you know they are not anywhere close to total surrender.
They continue to argue that getting real help (such as drug rehab, counseling, AA meetings, etc.) actually makes them want to drink more.
When I was still drinking and drugging I used to use this lame excuse myself: “AA and NA meetings just make me want to get drunk and high even more,” I would argue.
I hear this one a lot. People in rehab say it when they are looking for an excuse to leave early and go get high. “All these groups just remind me of getting high” they will say.
Arguments like this are really just a problem of attitude. The person has a bad attitude toward treatment. Why does this happen?
It happens when the person has not fully surrendered to their disease. They have not fully hit bottom. They are not yet desperate for change. They are not desperate to quit using or drinking.
If they were desperate to quit drugs and alcohol, then they would not be putting everything in a negative light. Instead, they would be focusing on the positive aspects of treatment. They would focus on the positive aspects of 12 step meetings. But instead, they are looking for an excuse to relapse, so they just sort of dump on everything, and express how it is not working for them, and how it is not helping them.
It’s not helping because they do not want it to help. Period.
Just another indicator that the person is not ready to stop just yet.
So what can you do if they are not ready to stop using or drinking?
A few key things:
Stop wasting energy on it, for one thing.
Be aware of these ideas, and don’t cling to false hope if they are still in heavy denial. You will know when they are ready to get clean and sober because they will stop fighting everything and they will become humble and start taking suggestions. If they are still trying to do things their way then they are not ready to stop.
So you can be ready. Go to Al-anon meetings and get a foundation for yourself, to be strong, and not fall into the trap of enabling them.
Offer to help them with rehab or professional help, and nothing else. Make certain they understand that you will never help them in any other way. Ever.
You will help them to get professional help for their addiction, or nothing. No more manipulation. Not even a chance for it. It’s over, at least for you.
You will help them get into rehab, or counseling, or therapy, and that is it. Those are the only options. If they need help in any other way, find it somewhere else.
You will know when they are ready to change when they say “I need help. Tell me what to do.”
That is a true moment of surrender. Everything else is a form of manipulation or denial.