Overcoming Addiction – First Steps

There remains a variety of opinions regarding addiction and the recovery process.  Many still carry stereo types of what it means to be “Addicted” and what qualifies as an addiction?  Can we truly be addicted to not only drugs and alcohol but sex, gambling, shopping, pornography, spending, food…. does it ever end?  And what aspects of addiction are about personal choice?  At the end of the day, addiction is a progressive, chronic and fatal disease and it is all about brain chemistry. Imagine knowing you are allergic to peanut butter, and every time you eat peanut butter, you get extremely ill and promise yourself never to do it again – then imagine being completely unable to stop eating peanut butter, either telling yourself “this time will be different,” or just not caring about the consequences of eating more. This is what addicts go through on a daily basis. Would a “sane” person chose this consciously?

To be clear, the fact that addiction is a disease does not in any way excuse the hurtful, sometimes depraved behavior that addicts often exhibit. It does, however, provide an explanation and the opportunity for caring compassion.   The way to successfully deal with an active addict is to never personalize their behavior. The reality is that addicts simply cannot think of anyone but themselves – their lives become entirely black and white, and their personal hierarchy or needs/priorities changes completely, resulting in their substance of choice being most important. So ultimately, everything they do and say has to be looked at through that lens.

Addicts are master manipulators, and more often than not, pathological liars. This is the only way they can continue living in their disease. We’ve found that if you take the opposite of what an addict says, it is most likely the truth. Addicts often make emotional promises to cut back or stop entirely, and many times loved ones fall for what seems like a very authentic desire to change – and they may very well be sincere at that moment. However, addicts are not capable of stopping on their own, and usually quickly fall back into their addictive behaviors.

Another very critical fact about addiction, is that it is a family disease.  None of us function in a vacuum.  We came from parents and a family system and addiction functions in this family system, often identified as “dysfunctional”.  One of our favorite recovery phases,  “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”  How do we become part of the solution?  The only person we can control is ourselves.

All of that said, addiction is 100% treatable, and we know that treatment works – unfortunately, the path to sobriety is often very bumpy, and success depends on an addict’s willingness to do the work that is necessary to maintain sobriety. The failure rate comes into play when addicts, or those around them, fall back into old behavior patterns. Remember – addiction flourishes in the presence of dishonesty and enabling.

Addiction also flourishes in the presence of dishonesty and unclear boundaries. Addicts can only understand black and white statements – the minute negotiation enters the picture, the disease has won.  It will take a team of recovery support persons to intervene in the addicts life and remain there for success.  My belief system is that a recovery plan needs to be tailored to an  individual.  What this means is that what works for one person might not work for everyone and we need to find the recovery plan that works for the individual, based on their history, their needs, the purpose the addiction served and the resources accessible and available to that person.