The 2 Critical Lessons that You Won’t Learn in Addiction Treatment

The 2 Critical Lessons that You Won’t Learn in Addiction Treatment


There are certain things that a struggling addict or alcoholic cannot really learn from inpatient treatment. For everything else, I highly recommend going to inpatient rehab if you truly want to turn your life around in recovery.

But let’s look closely at the 2 things that you won’t really learn in a treatment center:

First of all is the concept of surrender itself. This is the prerequisite for any kind of addiction recovery. In order to find a path to sobriety you must first let go of everything in an act of total and absolute surrender.

The reason that this is so vital has to do with how denial works.

When the struggling drug addict or alcoholic first finds themselves stuck in active addiction, there is no immediate problem at first. As they continue to endure their addictive state they run into more and more consequences over time. Eventually they start to get the idea that maybe, just maybe, they have a problem.

At first they attempt to blame everything and everyone else….anything other than their drug of choice. Whatever is the problem, it must be something other than the fact that their life revolves around getting drunk or high all the time. This is how their denial works.

So at some point, for example, the alcoholic realizes that when they go overboard with their drinking and they lose total control of themselves, bad things tend to happen. When they get really drunk they tend to invite situations that get them into all sorts of trouble, and the alcoholic would prefer to avoid this trouble.

Realizing this, the alcoholic then attempts to cut back on their drinking–just a bit. They want to still get drunk enough to have fun, but they don’t want to get so drunk that they lose total control and get themselves into more trouble.

As time goes on, the tolerance level of the alcoholic goes up and up, and they are able to function more and more “normally” while still ingesting large quantities of alcohol. This happens for a number of different reasons, but one of those reasons is because the person becomes so used to being intoxicated all the time, so it becomes their “new normal.” However, there are other reasons, and other ways, in which their tolerance will tend to increase over time.

So remember the balanace that the alcoholic is striving for between “fun” and “completely out of control?” When the person first started drinking in their lifetime, the size of that “window of fun” was actually quite large. Say that after they had 3 drinks they were in the “fun zone” and they could maintain that pleasant buzz all the way up until they had 9 drinks. This is just a hypothetical example but it proves the point, that the “fun zone” where they are still in control and feeling good–when they first started their drinking career–was actually several “drinks long”–from about 2 or 3 drinks to about 8 or 9 drinks, let’s say.

But as their addiction progressed, this window gets smaller and smaller. So the alcoholic who has a higher tolerance is generally fairly miserable when they take their first drink, and even when they take their second or third drinks. They will be on their fourth drink or so saying things like “This isn’t happening fast enough, I need to get drunk!” And the problem is that they are not going to get drunk until they are on maybe their 7th or 8th drink.

You can see where this is going…..after your tolerance has gone up considerably, you are basically miserable until you get “enough” drinks in you, at which point you are already about to lose control. I know of extreme cases in which an alcoholic has reached a reverse tolerance in which they take one drink and they black out completely, losing total control after just one beer (because their liver has been so abused for so long).

So this is why denial happens–the alcoholic believes that they should be able to get into that “fun zone” and stay there forever, just like they used to do when their drinking career started. But the problem is that this can never happen again because of the way addiction progresses and changes your tolerance over time. The “fun window” gets smaller and smaller until, eventually, the alcoholic is miserable pretty much all of the time. They drink in misery until they black out, then eventually they pass out, then they “come to” the next morning and repeat the process. Where did all the fun part go? It’s gone forever.

So you cannot learn how to surrender–or how to break through this sort of denial–by attending a group or a lecture at a rehab. You can hear about it, you can learn about it, but in order for a struggling addict or alcoholic to actually break through denial, they have to “pay their dues” and go through the misery themselves. There is no short cut that I know of.

Now the second thing that you cannot really learn in a treatment has to do with long term sobriety. That would be the idea that complacency is a threat to your recovery, and that threat is something that must be overcome through active, personal growth.

You cannot really “learn” this in rehab because the lesson is too early. Sure, they can warn you about it, as in “Hey, just so you know, when you get between about 6 and 24 months sober, you might get a bit lazy and complacent and you might slack off a bit and if you are not pushing yourself to explore personal growth then it could lead you to relapse, so be careful.”

But that warning is going to fall on deaf ears in a 28 day program, because you cannot really apply the knowledge just yet. You only hear about the threat in theory, but you are too early in recovery to be experiencing it yet, so you don’t really internalize the message.

But that doesn’t make the threat any less real when it shows up later in your recovery journey. Everyone who remains clean and sober in the long run has to deal with periods of complacency, and if you don’t take an active approach in correcting that condition, it could lead to bigger problems. Awareness helps, but ultimately you need to stay “plugged in” to a solution so that when new problems pop up along your recovery journey, you will have a way to get answers for those problems.

So it is not that you need to rush out and fix these problems or issues right away–denial and complacency. You should just be aware of them so that when the time comes you will know that solutions do exist, and that you should seek out therapists, sponsors, and mentors to help you to deal with the issues that you encounter. Being willing to look at your life honestly, diagnose your biggest stumbling block, and then seek out help to take corrective action is perhaps the greatest skill. Good luck to you on your journey!