Identified as a brain disease, addiction is much more than a moral failing or an issue of personal responsibility. As we understand more about how this condition affects the brain and continues to affect a person long after the habit has stopped, it’s becoming clear that combating addiction requires an understanding that this is a chronic problem that must be managed in the long-term, rather than seeing it as a condition with an effective cure or available short-term strategy.
While we’re told that addiction isn’t about willpower, there is an element to the recovery process that does require a substantial amount of will and personal input: the decision to start. It’s important to find the will to overcome addiction – and most importantly, one must feed and nurture that will. Staying motivated in the fight against addiction is the real challenge, because it’s a very slow burn, with months or years passing before it truly feels like the addiction is in the past.
The Choice to Start Recovery Is Yours
To find the will to overcome addiction, you need motivation. Some people are motivated by their families, their children, or their partner. Some people are motivated by fear of their own death, of all the things they have yet to do, of what they wanted to accomplish but never had the chance to attempt. Some people are motivated by the promise of fulfilling their own purpose, understanding that they lose the chance to explore their potential if they don’t work on giving up the habit. And many, unfortunately, are not motivated by anything at all, having lost their motivation in the days and months building up to their addicted state.
If you are someone in recovery or an addict planning to start the recovery process, and you have a powerful motivation, that’s great news. It won’t guarantee your success, but it gets your foot in the door. But for others, especially if the addict is someone you know and care for, bringing them to the realization that recovery is worth the effort can be very difficult.
Do Interventions Help?
Often, interventions help addicts realize that they are cared for and that they have a place in the world that they can properly reclaim once sober. It gives them hope that there’s something to life after the addiction. But interventions must be planned delicately, depending on the situation.
Therapists with a history in helping addicts deal with addiction often also help families plan interventions if the situation calls for one. Sometimes, a major intervention isn’t necessary. Sometimes, it’s enough to help convince a loved one to go see a professional and talk about their problem without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.
From there, the choice to start the recovery process is both an important one and a frightening one. The road to overcoming addiction is long and harsh, and the early days are marked by intense cravings, confusion, painful withdrawal symptoms, and more.
Overcoming the Challenges of Early Recovery
Help is critical. The first choice will always have to be the recoveree’s, but from there, it’s important to recognize the role that help plays in making the first few weeks of recovery bearable. From potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms to intense cravings, unpredictable thoughts and behavior, and the urge to go further than ever beyond to secure a fix, a recoveree’s mind can often be in pure chaos in those first few weeks of recovery, rebounding from pure joy at being free from addiction to the terror and anguish that follows early sobriety, as thoughts and feelings that had been carefully blocked out through drug use come rushing in.
A history of addiction can go hand-in-hand with issues with mental health and self-esteem, and it isn’t uncommon for recovering addicts to develop problems with anxiety and depression as a result of their drug abuse.
The proper healing environment is critical for times like this. Rehab clinics, sober living homes, and inpatient programs are designed to help recovering addicts in the first stages of addiction, and sober living homes help many who need more time away from the outside world and the temptation of using again. The only effective treatment for addiction in the long-term is time, but that time should be spent managing one’s mental health and tackling positive goals for the future.
After withdrawal ends, recoverees are encouraged to participate in both individual and group therapy sessions, take up new hobbies, make new acquaintances within the sober world, and plan for their future by going back to school or looking for work.
Looking for Help in the Right Places
Sober living homes, therapists, psychiatrists, and addiction clinics all offer help for recoverees struggling with sobriety. But it’s also important to remember to look for help in other places: like at home, among friends, or at the gym. Sometimes, the best way to deal with stress from addiction is by going for a run, taking up boxing classes, learning to paint, or learning a musical instrument.
Hobbies and friendships are important in recovery because they provide outlets for stress and help recoverees feel better, while also helping them develop skills they can be proud of. A stronger self esteem is important in the fight against addiction, because it can give a person more to hold onto when the urge to relapse comes knocking.
It’s Not Over After Rehab
The recovery process lasts a lifetime, in some interpretations. It is possible to overcome addiction, but the risk of relapse remains. It’s only through the diligent and continuous management of an addiction that relapse is properly avoided, over months, years, and decades. After the first year or so, it becomes about making use of the tools gained during the early recovery process to continue to manage cravings and deal with stress in a healthy way, avoiding old habits and turning to friends when the temptation grows too powerful.
When relapses do occur – and they tend to occur in most people within the first 12 months after treatment – it’s important to get right back on the horse. With the proper guidance, a relapse can be an opportunity to learn how better to combat addiction, rather than being viewed as a failure. We all make mistakes, but it’s how we deal with them, and how we seek to avoid making them in the future, that truly defines our character.