Which Alcohol Treatments are Effective in Beating Addiction
Sometimes people who are struggling with alcoholism wonder which treatments are most effective in overcoming an addiction.
This is generally a waste of time and is a moot point when it comes to arguing about what to actually do about the problem.
I know this to be true because I have done it myself in the past. The idea is that you (the alcoholic) are stuck in denial and you do not want to take action. Taking action is scary. Actually making a decision and embracing abstinence as your solution is a big, scary step. No one wants to do this at first.
So one of the big arguments that you might make while you are in denial is that you don’t know which treatment model or method you should embrace, and therefore you should not take any action at all.
Or you may get caught up in the idea that what you choose to do for recovery and where you choose to go for treatment is going to either make or break your recovery effort. So then you are putting a great deal of importance on this particular choice while ignoring what is really important. And what is really important for your success in early recovery? The level of your surrender. The depth of your commitment. Whether or not you have truly hit bottom or not.
One of the major reasons that this sort of thinking comes up is due to selection bias. Let’s take a look at what that is and why it creates a mistake in our thinking.
How selection bias works in alcoholism recovery
If you get clean and sober and go to AA you will encounter a great deal of selection bias. Most people who do this do not even realize that they are seeing the bias at all, and therefore they start to accept it as “true.”
So here is what happens. Someone gets clean and sober using a particular method of recovery, such as the AA program. But long before they actually get clean and sober they have years and years of struggle with their addiction. They may go to counseling, they may go to a few meetings, they may even try other various recovery programs (such as a Christian based recovery program, for example). So they go through all of this struggle and they may or may not try a few different recovery methods and they eventually reach a point of true surrender. Upon reaching their bottom and surrendering they finally ask for help and are ready for real change in their life. So at this point they may be directed to the AA program. So they go to AA and suddenly, magically, their life starts to get better and better.
This person in the example above drives me crazy sometimes, because they give all of the credit in their recovery to the particular program that they were exposed to after they finally surrendered. So they went to AA in the end, so they give all praise and glory to AA. To them, AA is the ultimate solution and it is “the only thing that really works.” They believe this thoroughly because that is what their direct experience was. They tried many things, they struggled for a long time, and nothing worked for them. “Nothing else worked.” And then they finally found AA, and their life got better.
This is selection bias. The person does not realize that the real key was their surrender and willingness, and not this specific program of recovery.
The same thing can (and does) happen with other programs of recovery. Someone may try to go to AA for years and they continue to struggle and relapse. But then one day they finally surrender fully to their disease and they just happen to find themselves in a Christian based treatment center. What do you think happens? Naturally they decide that AA is sort of useless and that Christian based recovery is “where the answer is at.” So then they have selection bias as well based on the program that finally worked for them, not realizing that the critical ingredient was their level of surrender.
Selection bias works another way in recovery. Once you are in a chosen program of recovery, you stay locked into seeing only other people who are also in that program. So if you go to AA meetings all of the time then it is a self selecting group. Maybe someone will quit going to the meetings and they will relapse. Then later that person comes back to the group and tells their story of how they relapsed. And everyone nods their heads and says “See? If you leave AA then you are doomed to relapse. This is the only path that really works!” But they do not see people who successfully leave AA. People who remain sober and do not come back to tell their story to the group at AA meetings. So they are a self selecting group. They only see examples of what they want to see because their viewpoint is limited. This is another form of selection bias.
This is not necessarily a huge problem for most people. If you find a program that works for you then that is great. Go with it. Live a great life in recovery. My message here is that you should be cautious when trying to help the newcomer in recovery. It is not fair to tell them that you have found “the one true path,” or that your chosen program is the only way to get clean and sober. Yet this mindset that I have described is very pervasive in traditional recovery circles. It seems that nearly everyone suffers from selection bias and they all believe that they way that they got sober is the one true method of recovery. I think this can be a dangerous and misleading mistake that can lead the newcomer astray.
There is no one path that will work for every person, but willingness would make it so
Is it right to force a treatment method on someone, just because you know that it should, in theory, work for them?
There is no single path in recovery that will work for everyone. But many people try to make this the truth, because the path has worked for them and they have also watched this solution be forced onto others. But just because it can potentially work for everyone does that make it right to force it on people?
In the end it all comes down to willingness. If the individual is willing enough then any abstinence based program will work for them, period.
If you have reached a point of true surrender and you are willing to go to any length for sobriety, then it does not matter which program you choose to follow (or may be forced on you as the solution). It will work well because you are ready for it to work. You are at a turning point and you are ready to take serious action.
But not every program is compatible with every person. As an extreme example, there is one recovery program that is based on running marathons and doing long distance running training as a method of recovery. That is what the entire program of recovery is based on! You run, you train hard, and you run in very long races. Obviously this may work well for some people but it is certainly not going to work well for everyone, right?
If someone had discovered this method of recovery before AA came along, would we be forcing the long distance running on everyone just because it was proven to work first? I seriously doubt it. It is much easier to sit around and drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and talk about your drinking than it is to get out there and train hard every day.
Willingness creates success in recovery. If you try to stay sober and you relapse, then your problem was one of willingness. You were not willing to do what you needed to do in order to remain clean and sober.
Any program of recovery can work for you. Any abstinence based program should work just fine. The key is that you embrace the program and take massive action.
A model for overcoming alcoholism in just 3 simple processes
I think it is important to break down the recovery process to its simplest form.
That way people who are using a specific recovery program will know exactly what it is that they are attempting to do, and why.
We can break down a recovery process like this:
Disruption is needed in order to interrupt your pattern of drinking or abusing drugs. You have to create a break in your pattern if you ever want to gain the freedom of recovery. But how can you stop using your drug of choice when you are trapped in a vicious cycle?
The key for me was to go to rehab. There are basically three functions of going to rehab: One is to detox, one is to learn how to recover, and a third reason may be to find support. But the primary and first reason that you go to rehab is so that you disrupt your pattern. You stop using drugs and alcohol for a while and you simply stay in rehab to be sober. You disrupt the disease of addiction. You are starting a positive trend by being sober in rehab and if you can continue on with it later then you are successful. Rehab starts you on a path to success, though it promises nothing in the future.
Support is needed in early recovery. You can find a bit of support in early recovery by going to rehab, but you will probably need to go far beyond this when you leave treatment. Most people recommend that you go to AA meetings. Of course if you choose a different path in recovery then you would go elsewhere for support (for example, by going to church or getting involved with a religious community).
You need support in early recovery for a few reasons. One reason is to know that you are not crazy and that you are not alone. That other people have struggles too and that you are normal. A second reason is so that you can learn directly from other people’s example. You don’t have to make the same mistakes that they made in the past. You can benefit from their experience. A third reason is because you may need help directly. You may need to call up your peers and tell them “let’s go hang out because otherwise I will end up drunk today.” And so you can help each other directly in terms of overcoming alcoholism.
Support is most important in early recovery when you are still trying to establish stability in being sober. It becomes less important over time and as you remain sober for longer.
Growth is important in recovery because if you are not making growth then you will eventually relapse, even if you have the other two elements in place (disruption and support). In fact, I have watched many people in recovery who went through the disruption process and then had a great deal of support as well, but they still relapsed. Why is that? Because they were not taking action. They were not making personal growth.
This begs the question: “How do we define personal growth?” What is it and how can we achieve it?
Simply put, personal growth is positive change.
Recovery is nothing, if not change. They have a saying in recovery: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” Simple but powerful. If you go through the disruption process and then you do nothing to really change your life, what do you think is going to happen? Relapse.
In order to overcome an addiction you must change. You must make lots of changes. In fact, they say that you have to “change everything.” They are pretty much correct in this. You must make lots of positive changes, consistently, over a long period of time.
When you do this your life gets better and better. After several months things really start to get good. After a few years your life is completely transformed. If you do not feel “blessed” then you are doing it wrong. If you make positive changes each and every day then over time these changes will add up to an amazing transformation.
At first, you will probably not notice any benefit from your actions. It doesn’t matter. Keep going with your efforts and know that you will be rewarded. If you keep making positive changes then in the long run they will add up to serious rewards. This is how recovery works. This is also a large part of what keeps people clean and sober.
Drinking was a reward. If you are not getting any rewards in your life then eventually you will go back and “reward” yourself with another drink. The problem is that this particular reward is actually a curse, and the long term effects of it become very bad for us. But that first drink would be like a “reward.”
The key is to find an alternative way to reward yourself. And you cannot do that unless you are making a deliberate effort to change and to grow each day.
Personal growth is its own reward. The benefits will add up over time and accumulate. Life gets really good in long term recovery, if you just give it a chance. Of course you have to keep taking action as well. Positive action yields positive rewards. You just have to be patient enough to give it time to really kick in. And you have to be miserable enough in the beginning to give a new way of life a chance to start working in your life. Anyone who has been sober for 3 days knows how good a drink would feel at that particular time. But if they stick it out and keep taking positive action then eventually they will reach a point where they are much happier on a day to day basis than what the drink can produce.
Alcohol may have made you high at one time, but you can get much “higher” in sobriety, even on a daily basis, if you are willing to put in the effort. Life gets really, really good. But you have to put in the work. You have to take action in order to produce a better life. And that take time and serious dedication.
Finding the method that works right for you
The key is to start.
Ask for help. Get started in recovery.
The treatment method that actually helps you get sober is the one that is right for you.
Don’t hesitate. If you are hesitating then you are just inviting more misery in your life. Better to seek help now than later.
Do it today. Do it right now. Call up a rehab and ask for help. Call up a friend and see about going to a meeting. Whatever it takes. Just take action.
You may try more than one method of recovery. You may be exposed to more than one program. Don’t fret about it. Simply follow through as best you can and find what works for you in recovery.
Obviously there are people who stay sober using different methodologies. AA works for some people, but not all. Religious programs may help you. Or not. And maybe you can find an alternative path that works for you in the long run (as I have done).
Keep in mind too that your method may evolve over time. Just because you attend an AA meeting does not mean that you are locked into the AA program for life. I started at a rehab that was based on the 12 step model but my recovery today looks very different from the typical AA’er.
In my opinion there is no problem with making some sacrifices during the disruption phase. In other words, I have met people who are very much against AA who did quite well to push that to the side and go to treatment anyway. I met some other people in early recovery who got a lot of help from a religious based treatment center even though they were not particularly religious. These people respected the program even though they did not share in the same beliefs, and so they were still able to receive help.
A willingness to be told what to do may be essential
It may be a key component of successfully recovery that you become willing to be told what to do.
In other words, if you are not willing to be told what to do in recovery, then you may not be ready to quit drinking yet.
I wish that this were false but I am afraid that it was true for me in my own experience. You will have to judge whether or not it is true for you as well.
In other words, when I was stuck in denial and I was not yet at my bottom, you could not tell me what to do. There was just no way. I was not having it. I would not listen. No one could tell me how to get sober because I was just not ready.
When I finally reached my bottom and I was in a state of what I call “full surrender,” I was suddenly willing to do whatever it took. Now I was in a state of willingness and learning. Now I was in a state where I was willing to be told what to do and how to live.
Until I became willing to “take orders” from other people, I could not move forward in my recovery. I had to become willing by reaching a point of total and complete misery first. It was only then that I was able to listen to others and receive help.