Why Alcohol And Drug Addicts So Often Can’t Recover On Their Own
Right off the bat, I’m not going to say no one has ever done it. Certainly they have. But indeed, if you are one of the lucky ones who has faced addiction or alcoholism and recovered without help, you have a will of iron. And suffice it to say, you probably put as much into your recovery as you did your addiction – maybe more.
If this is your story, my hat goes off to you, my friend. Unfortunately, this is not the case for so many people.
There are a few different reasons why self-help and self-recovery don’t work well for most serious substance abusers. I’m going to cover two of the main reasons here.
#1: Self-help requires a logical approach, and an ability to focus on a desired outcome. It also requires that the individual dedicate a great deal of time and mental energy to the goals.
Simply put, people who are actively engaging in substance abuse don’t often have these capabilities.
Why? Addiction and alcoholism are both obsessions and compulsions. Thus, the preoccupation with substance use hinders the person’s ability to concentrate on the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and goals necessary to achieve and maintain abstinence.
Moreover, the brains of alcoholics and drug addicts are not logical nor rational. Substances have a biological impact on the human mind. Thus, the ability to make good decisions is impaired.
This is critical, because helping oneself, as I noted above, takes a steel will. For most alcohol and drug addicts, that will has been given over to the substance, and the will has to thrive shriveled up long ago.
Also, alcoholics and drug addicts tend to be impulsive, and unaware or unconcerned about the consequences. This is the result of a drug or alcohol hijacking the pleasure center of the brain. The brain literally can longer find pleasure in the normal ways that non-substance abusers do. This is why relapse is so common among those who try to detox at home.
#2: Addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are reasons for its inception beyond the user’s control.
Say that a user is able to quit by themselves, using certain techniques – at least temporarily. This is probably not that uncommon. But for many, however, the same problems that factored into the addiction in the first place are still present.
There are many theories on what causes addiction, or contributes to it. It may be different for everyone. But in general, it seems to be a problem of social pain and isolation. That is, people who are unfulfilled in their lives, whether due to past trauma or current circumstances, are more susceptible to substance abuse. Call it self-medication, if you will, but the bottom line is, taking away the “treatment” for the problem doesn’t take away the problem.
In order for someone to be successful at treating themselves for addiction, very often they would be required to treat themselves for every other problem that led to addiction. Factors may be internal, and include depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. External factors may include dysfunction in family and social life, poverty, and any number of environmental negatives that decrease one’s quality of life.
And finally, addicts are often isolated, both emotionally and physically. The truth is, people need people. People need support and understanding. And this is the crux of addiction treatment. The whole idea is, you don’t have to be alone in this.
Evidence-based addiction treatment is designed to consider all contributing factors to addiction, and the internal and external layers involved. No one should be expected to be able to do all of this on their own. Moreover, those non-addicts who say “Why can’t you just quit?” are clearly uninformed about the many barriers to abstinence that addicts must mentally face.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology