How can a struggling alcoholic or drug addict overcome the impulse to use drugs or alcohol in early recovery?
The first thing that you should know about impulse control is that it is going to be completely useless up until the point of “real surrender.” In other words, if an alcoholic or drug addict is stuck in their addiction and they are merely trying to control their intake while they are still drinking or using drugs, then this is going to be a losing battle.
No, impulse control with drugs or alcohol can really only be effective in the case of total and complete abstinence. People who are “not done yet” will keep self medicating and they have no real chance for control until they surrender everything. They have to reach that breaking point in their addiction when they have finally had enough pain and misery and they are ready to change their life “for real this time.” Up until then it is just playing games and no lasting control is possible.
So after a person surrenders completely they will hopefully attend inpatient treatment so that they can start learning the basics of how recovery should work for them. Going to a 28 day program will give them a chance to break free from the immediate cycle of relapse, the ups and downs that come with the struggle of trying to control your addiction. You need to realize that, even if an alcoholic or addict is afraid of going to rehab and being completely sober, that the people in a 28 day program are comfortable. They are not climbing the walls and trying to get drugs or alcohol into their bodies.
Rehab is easy. Being in rehab is easy. Getting there is tough, and actually having the initiative to get to rehab can be tough to come by, but once you are there it is very easy to be there. Nobody is freaking out due to withdrawal. Nobody is breaking through the walls like a cartoon character to go get high or drunk on a random impulse. It is very easy and comfortable to be in rehab. Not only that, but I have found this to be true no matter how “hard core” an alcoholic or drug addict may be. In other words, you are not special, and it is fairly easy for anyone to be in treatment. Getting there is tough, but being there is no problem.
Once you are in treatment it is fairly easy to control your impulses. Why is this? Mostly because there is no immediate temptation. Nobody is offering you drugs or alcohol, and you could not get any if you wanted them. And you know this. You know that it is a controlled environment with no chance of relapse. So in that regard it is very safe, and your mind does not obsess over the idea of getting drunk or high, because you know it is not possible in the immediate. There just aren’t any options for it, so your brain is able to play it cool and stop obsessing for a while.
Unfortunately, everyone has to leave treatment eventually, and that is where the temptation can come in again. The day that you walk out of rehab is the day that your brain wakes up again and says “hey, we could actually get drunk or high right now if we wanted to….”
So in very early recovery the solution is fairly simple: Go to rehab. Call a treatment center and get yourself into treatment. Done deal. No cravings or impulses while you are in treatment for the most part. That much is easy.
The key is to dedicate your entire life to addiction recovery after you leave rehab. This is when you really need impulse control, and this is when most people screw up their recovery efforts. The first 30 days following rehab are critical.
So my suggestion for controlling your impulses during this time is to dive head first into your aftercare program and work it like your life depends on it.
In other words, if they suggest that you go to IOP, then go to every single appointment, and participate as best you can. If they suggest that you go see a therapist, then go see that therapist and be as honest as you can with the person. If they suggest that you go to AA or NA meetings, then go to one every single day, find a home group, and get a sponsor. Call the sponsor once every single day for the first 30 days. If they have a problem with that then get a different sponsor.
You need to put more energy into this period of time in your life than you have ever put into anything before. You need to push yourself to take your recovery program to the next level, to try your best at it, to try harder than you have ever tried before in your entire life at anything. Period.
This is it. This is game time. When you leave rehab and go back into the real world, you are very vulnerable to relapse at that moment. You need to use everything and anything that you have at your disposal in order to avoid relapse.
You may discover that you are triggered to want to use drugs or alcohol. You may suddenly realize that you are having cravings. What is the solution?
You should already be living the solution. You should be going to an AA meeting every single day of your life without question. So if you are feeling triggered and you want to share about it with people in recovery, you don’t have to figure out a solution for that, because you are already going to a meeting later that day. Or you are going to call your sponsor this evening and check in with them. So if you are going to an AA meeting every day and you are calling your sponsor every single night then there are two resources right there that can help you to overcome just about anything.
But you see, these are not tools to be used in case of emergency, you are going to do these things every single day in order to know, for sure, that you have solutions in place.
You can establish more healthy habits so that you blanket your entire life with solutions. Going to see a therapist once a week is a good resource to have. Daily exercise or meditation is another good tool to be in the habit of. If you set up your life in recovery to be completely canvassed with these solutions and recovery tools then you do not have to scramble to find a solution when you are feeling triggered.
And the truth is, if you are not in these habit of doing any of these things, then once you get a trigger or an urge it is too late. You are going to relapse. The only way to overcome those impulses is to set up these positive habits in advance, so that you have an answer built in to your life for when things get challenging. You can get into this new kind of lifestyle by first going to inpatient rehab, then follow up with the aftercare that they suggest to you. Good luck!