How do You Quit an Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol?
How exactly does a struggling alcoholic or drug addict quit an addiction or build a new life?
Believe it or not there is a process that can lead you through to sobriety, but that does not necessarily mean that it is easy to do.
Many people get the idea of a list of tips for recovery mixed up with the idea of a recovery strategy, or a philosophy.
A strategy is much more powerful than a list of tips or tactics because it will allow you to be flexible and to think on your own two feet. If you have a strategy for sobriety then you can improvise. And given that recovery lasts for the rest of your life, there are going to be a few situations where you have to improvise. Not every situation will call for an exact recovery tactic that can be simply executed (such as: Have trigger, call sponsor). Real life can get messy at times and therefore the tips and tricks are not always enough. Sometimes you have to be able to think on your own as well. That is where strategy comes in.
My overall recovery strategy is based on one simple concept:
If you are engaged in the concept of personal growth then you are well protected from a relapse. This is my operating theory anyway, and I see it applied well in my own life, as well as in the lives of others. You can even apply this concept to someone who is working a traditional recovery program such as AA or NA and see if it holds up. For example, some people are in those programs but the eventually relapse anyway. The question is: What happened? Or rather, what did not happen? In all cases I think it can be traced to a lack of personal growth. They are not moving forward and taking positive action if they end up relapsing. Sometimes this is due to a lack of surrender but the bottom line is that they were no longer moving forward on a path of personal growth–the reason is besides the point. They relapsed and they are now back to the chaos and misery of addiction, rather than in the process of slowly rebuilding their life.
You may have a strategy of personal growth but you still have to check off the boxes:
* Disruption (treatment, breaking the pattern, etc.).
In my experience the first two years were taken up by all four of those concepts in my life. That last ten years though have been mostly about the last one, personal growth.
Therefore my belief is that addiction and alcoholism recovery is about an evolution. The person should change as they stay clean and sober. You don’t sober up, go to an AA meeting your first day, and then stay stuck with those same ideas and tactics for the rest of your life. You change, you learn, you grow. And as you do so you develop your own strategy for successful living in recovery.
I suppose you have a choice: You can use someone else’s recovery strategy, or you can use your own.
In the beginning, you cannot use your own though. You must use someone else’s. There is good reason for this. If you try to use your own ideas then you will most likely sabotage your own efforts and end up relapsing.
Early recovery is the time to listen to others and take advice. Long term sobriety is when you can focus on building your own path in life. If you confuse the two then you are much more likely to relapse.
The process of overcoming an addiction starts with surrender
When you are down on the ground and you are stuck in addiction and you are wasted, high, drunk, or whatever….that is the time when you need to surrender. You need to give up. This may feel like a total defeat but it is in doing so that you will start to build a new life.
This is the great paradox of addiction. You find yourself addicted and your life spirals out of control. Things get worse and worse. And finally you reach a breaking point and you can’t fight any more so you just give up. You feel as though you may die, or like you don’t care if you did. This is true surrender. This is total surrender. This is the point that you must reach before you can rebuild your life in recovery.
Everyone who has successfully overcome a drug or alcohol addiction has to go through this process. It is a defeat. It feels like a defeat. Surrender does not feel good at first. It will feel almost suicidal. Though there is a bright side to surrender, and that is the relief that you might feel that goes along with it. Because you know that you are done fighting, you are done with the struggle. It is a very strange feeling because you may not have much hope at all, but you will at least know that you are done fighting against your addiction. That is true surrender. I have been there.
Much of what I have written about on this website is in how to reach this point of surrender. Even now after all these years I am not sure that it is even possible to “choose” to surrender. It just happens, for most people.
But I think what you can do is to start measuring.
If you are an addict or an alcoholic, then you need to start paying attention.
Get honest. Get honest with yourself.
About how happy you are. Seriously.
Just start paying really close attention to how happy you are.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame yourself or others. Just start measuring every single day. You might even keep a journal, and write down how you are feeling each day. Are you happy, or aren’t you? It is not that difficult. And yet most alcoholics and addicts live their lives without measuring this at all, and just assuming that if they had infinity money and drugs and all their problems went away then they would suddenly be happy forever.
This is fantasy.
You must learn this. You must teach yourself that you are living in a fantasy world, where you are always happy as long as you have your drug of choice. This is not true at all, but the alcoholic mind tells itself that this is reality.
So, start measuring.
This is how you will finally break through your denial.
Your denial tells you “I am happy most of the time, as long as I have my drug of choice or I can drink (or whatever).” The truth is that you are miserable 99 percent of the time. But you have to get honest enough with yourself to fully realize this.
It is only after you break through denial and fully realize this misery that you will become willing to change.
Surrender is always the first step in any recovery process. This is true with AA, and it was true long before AA ever existed.
Surrender is fundamental to recovery.
How much disruption do you really need in your life?
There is another concept that is fundamental to recovery as well:
You have to disrupt your pattern of drinking (or using drugs).
This means that you need to break out of your cycle of regular abuse.
There are different ways to do this, but the most straightforward and practical way to do it (these days) is to go to inpatient rehab.
Now I am not one to tote rehab as a cure, because it most certainly is not. I worked in a rehab facility for over 5 years straight (full time no less!).
I also lived in a rehab center for 20 months before that.
So believe me, I know that rehab is not a cure for anyone.
But it is still the best option you have, and it is the most support that you can possibly get in early recovery.
There are other options, but none of them are as good.
I have watched many, many people try to argue their way out of staying in rehab. It is always fairly painful to watch, because you know that their arguments are all foolish.
The family (or spouse, or friends) have brought someone into rehab. And that person came along to be checked in, but now they are afraid to stay. Or they simply want to go get high or drunk. But for whatever reason, they want to bolt. Trust me, this happened many times when I was working (and living) in rehab.
In every case, the treatment staff would try to talk the person into staying.
Nearly every time when this point was reached, the person would:
A) Leave rehab anyway, no matter what anyone said.
Most often they would also come back to rehab several months later (sometimes years later) and they would mention how foolish it was for them to walk out the last time. They should have stayed. They say this every single time.
So if you have reached the point of surrender and you are ready to change your life, then my advice to you is to simply go to rehab. Why mess around with lessor solutions that probably will not work as well? Go right to the source of your best chances. Surrender, ask for help, go to treatment. It really can be that simple, if you let it be.
How much support do you really need to remain sober?
What else do you need?
You need support. Another way to say this is that you need to learn a great deal in early recovery, and you cannot learn all of it from websites or books. You need to learn real things from real humans.
I really believe that face to face contact is important in early recovery. AA meetings have a certain power in that way. But so does attending inpatient rehab.
For example, when I was living in long term treatment, I used to stay up late most nights and talk with my peers in the smoking room. This was some of the most important times in my entire life, and I believe it created a foundation for my recovery. Because we were exploring recovery, we were arguing and talking with each other, and we were trying to figure this sobriety thing out.
In fact, what we were doing is deconstructing successful recovery.
One thing we would do is to try to figure out who was going to stay sober and who might relapse. Sounds terrible, right? But be realistic, we were living in rehab, a bunch of guys, and we were connected to a short term rehab as well with a detox center. We had big AA meetings every day that included everyone. How could you not talk about this stuff, gossip a bit, and try to figure people out? That is just human nature. And so we discussed such things.
It did not take long for me to realize that we were notoriously bad at predicting who was going to stay clean and sober. It almost seemed like a total crap shoot.
Now don’t get me wrong. It was pretty easy to figure out who was going to relapse for sure. But as for who was going to “make it,” that was a whole lot harder to pin down. And many times you really liked someone in recovery and you may even look up to them, and then they would go and relapse and dash all your hopes. And this made you rethink your entire worldview, your entire vision of what a strong recovery was all about.
This happened to me over and over again. I looked up to certain people, and they eventually relapsed.
Eventually it seemed like they all relapsed.
So in a sense it pushed me to find my own path in recovery.
I was no longer content to follow others. I was no longer content to just go to a meeting every day and read the book and hope for the best. The people who told me to do that kept relapsing. I demanded more than that for myself. I wanted to build my own sobriety and feel secure in it for myself. I couldn’t do that by just repeating this process that others laid down for me in AA. I had to find my own path.
How personal growth becomes a factor in long term sobriety
It was about this time that I discovered that creating my own path in recovery could help to fight off triggers and urges for relapse. Not only did I start to define my own path in recovery but I also started to actively ignore conventional wisdom (go to meetings every day, call your sponsor, read the Big Book, etc.).
I was afraid to leave the daily meetings (to be perfectly honest) so I figured that I better step up my game a bit if I was really going to stay sober. So this is when I put my mind into overdrive to try to “figure out” recovery. I started watching the people that I looked up to in recovery (the ones who hadn’t relapsed) and tried to figure out what made them tick. It had to be more than just daily meeting attendance.
I discovered that it was more than just meetings. It was personal growth. But I had to experiment a great deal in order to really learn that. I had to exercise every day for at least a year or two. I had to give up cigarettes, which was probably the hardest challenge of my entire life (seriously!). I had to go back to college and get a degree, just to figure out that I never needed the degree in the first place (but maybe I needed the journey? I like to think so….).
I had to take a lot of suggestions. All of the above accomplishments were not my ideas. They were other people’s ideas for me. Mostly my family, my friends, and my sponsor in early recovery. They told me to do those things, and I did them.
Does that sound appetizing to you? Other people telling you what to do, and then you doing it?
Most people don’t like to be told what to do.
But I will let you in on a secret:
This is like rocket fuel for your success in recovery.
If you want to have an amazing journey in sobriety, just get yourself a sponsor (someone that you trust and look up to) and then ask them for advice. Then, take the advice. Act on it. Follow through. This is a shortcut to success. And it works very quickly if you allow yourself to get out of the dang way. But you have to swallow your pride and get the heck out of the way. You must kill your ego.
Just get it over with. Kill you ego and say to yourself: “I have been screwing my life up for a long time. It is time to let someone else drive the bus for a while. I will ask for advice from other people that I trust, and then I will take that advice and act on it.”
This may sound stupid, and it may not be very exciting to you.
But I assure you that if you actually do it, and keep doing it, your life will get a whole lot better. And it will do so quickly.
When I say that “personal growth is the solution” a lot of people say “yeah, but how do I do that?”
I just told you how. Find someone that you trust in life to tell you what to do. Then, do it.
Not very appetizing, I know. It is your ego that objects to this process.
Kill your ego. Shove it out of the way, and tell yourself that it is time to get healthy instead.
What do you need to do in order to rebuild your life in recovery?
You might consider taking a look at this guide for alcoholism recovery.
Or you can just take my advice above and start taking suggestions from people you trust.
In order to change your life and recover from addiction you must do the following things:
1) You have to surrender to your disease. To admit that you are not happy and that you have screwed up your life and that you cannot fix it yourself.
2) You must disrupt your pattern of addiction. The shortcut for this is to go to rehab. There are other methods and they are all more risky and complicated than going to rehab. Just go to rehab.
3) You need support. You need people who can help you in recovery. You can find these people in AA, or you can find them elsewhere (in rehab, online, in religious communities, etc.). But you are going to need help and support in early recovery.
4) You need to make personal growth. You cannot stand still in your recovery and expect to stay sober forever. If you become idle then eventually you will relapse.
Obviously there is a lot more to lifelong sobriety than just attending rehab. But rehab is still a darn good start, and you could do a lot worse than this. That said, there are people out there that have become sober without treatment. Personally I don’t know any of them though.
What about you, how did you quit drugs and alcohol? Are you still in the process of doing so? What is it like for you so far? Can our community help you in any way?
Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!