Let me give some general–but still very helpful–advice for struggling addicts and alcoholics.
First of all, I think the most important question that the struggling addict can ask of themselves is: “How serious am I about getting clean and sober?”
This is a critical question because your answer will determine your success or failure in attempting to get clean and sober. In fact, how you answer this question is really the most important factor in predicting your success in sobriety.
The problem is that this is not very helpful to someone who is stuck in denial. If a struggling addict or alcoholic just isn’t ready for recovery yet, and they are still stuck in denial and they are still “having fun” with their drug of choice, then it doesn’t really matter if they ponder this question or not. Forcing someone to think about whether they are really serious or not is going to change nothing in terms of outcomes–all it does is to give you a strong indicator of how ready they really are.
Someone who is ready for real change in their life will have an answer that really says “I surrender completely, someone needs to show me how to live my life, what to do, and how to stay clean. I am totally lost.”
If the answer to that question does not echo that sentiment, then they are still struggling with some degree of denial. Now understand that denial when it comes to addiction is not always “flat out denial.” Sometimes their denial will be partial, in that the addict will know that they have a serious problem, but they are unwilling to accept a new solution in their life. They might say “yes, I know I drink or use too much, but rehab and programs don’t work for me, so I have to figure it out for myself” or something to that effect. The bottom line is that if the person is in partial denial then it means that they are not ready to change their life and really embrace a recovery program.
At this point the friends and family of the struggling alcoholic may urge them to go to treatment, but unless they are at a point of “true surrender” then they are not going to be successful at turing their life around–yet. I say “yet” because at some point they may become miserable enough to realize that they need serious help, and they will finally reach that critical tipping point in which they surrender and go to rehab.
At one point my family was urging me to get help for my drinking and drug use, and I agreed to go see a therapist for one hour each week. So if someone had asked me the question at that time: “How serious would you say you are about getting clean and sober?” I would have responded by saying “well, I am willing to go to counseling for one hour each week, but that is about it really. Nothing more than that for now, thanks.”
And so you can gauge the level of willingness based on how they answer the question “How serious are you about getting clean?” Their actions will speak louder than words, of course, and if they are only willing to do the bare minimum when it comes to recovery, then you can bet that the person is just not ready for real change just yet.
When I finally surrendered completely–both to my disease and also surrendering to a new solution in my life–I answered that question by saying “I am serious enough that I will do whatever you tell me to do. I will go to rehab, I will follow directions, I will go to meetings, I will do whatever is required of me. I am ready to listen.”
That is the level of willingness and conviction that is required. Surrender to the fact that you are addicted is not enough; you must also surrender to the fact that you need a new solution in your life. The term “new solution” implies that you do not know this solution yet, and therefore you must learn it from other people. If you believe otherwise then you are likely still in denial and nothing that you do is going to really change things for you until you humble yourself completely.
My advice is that after the addict or alcoholic has reached this critical point of surrender, they should call a drug or alcohol treatment center and go to an inpatient rehab program. This is the best choice that they could ever make for themselves if they have truly surrendered and they are ready for change. The reason that this is the best possible choice is because they will have every possible resource available to them if they go to a 28 day inpatient program, whereas other paths to recovery are not going to be nearly as complete or comprehensive as this. Going to inpatient rehab is the best possible choice.
Once you go to an inpatient treatment program, the goal is to work a new program of recovery as thoroughly as you possibly can. This means that you must dive into a recovery program head first, dedicating your entire life to it, and following every last bit of advice that they give you. You must hold nothing back and be prepared to listen and learn and soak up every last bit of knowledge that you can about recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism. This is the standard that you must meet in order to succeed in recovery. Anything less will typically result in relapse.
Now after you have gone through treatment and you have transitioned out into “the real world” and you are working a program of recovery, you must continue to push yourself in order to grow, to learn, to improve your life. At this point you need to do more than just show up to the regular AA meetings and share how your day went–you must dig deeper than that and be prepared to anaylze your shortcomings, focus on your strengths, and make a plan to prioritize personal growth in your life. If you are not pushing yourself continuously to improve yourself and your life then you are at risk of becoming complacent and potentially relapsing as a result.
Recovery from addiction, put simply, is a continuous act of personal growth and self improvement. If all you do is remove the substances from your life then the addiction remains and it will find new ways to manifest itself. The recovering alcoholic or drug addict is never fully “cured” from their addiction, and it will always be there, lurking in the background, with the potential to cause a relapse and thereby reactivate the addiction again. The only way to really insure that the addiction remains dormant is to actively work a program of recovery each and every day. Failure to work a recovery program means that each passing day, relapse becomes more and more likely.
You don’t necessarily have to do any specific thing in order to recover, but you certainly have to do something. Recovery is an act of creation, not an act of elimination. You don’t just quit the substances and then walk away and live happily ever after–it takes more than that. Dedication to a recovery program and a lifetime of personal growth and positive action is the only way to make real recovery sustainable. Good luck!