“Fear is an evil, corroding thread; the fabric of our lives is shot through with it.” ~The AA Big Book.
Many people who have never had to personally deal with alcoholism or drug abuse have no idea how closely intertwined fear and addiction actually are.
Drug-seeking and fear are conditioned responses that can cause maladjusted or dysfunctional behavior in an individual. Usually these behaviors manifest themselves as active addiction or various anxiety-related disorders.
One form of behavior modification therapy widely used in addiction treatment is “extinction”, in which the patient learns to suppress the conditioned responses associated with their disorder. Recent research has indicated that the “circuits” for both addiction and anxiety extinction overlap in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
In other words, fear and addiction are biologically-related.
What does this mean to a person in recovery? It means that to successfully treat the addiction, you also have to address the fear.
False Evidence Appearing Real
It is only human nature to be afraid of the unknown. During recovery from substance abuse – especially during early recovery – most newly-abstaining addicts/alcoholics find themselves facing new fears about their sobriety, often before they have completely dealt with the old fears that helped fuel their addiction.
- Fear that life will no longer be as fun or enjoyable without drugs/alcohol
- Fear that sobriety will just be too hard
- Fear of facing life’s difficulties without drugs/alcohol
- Fear of relapse
- Fear of sobriety
- Fear of the consequences from past actions
Most of all, the newly-sober alcoholic/drug addict is afraid of the unfamiliar territory that they encounter on their journey of recovery. Questions like “What’s going to happen next?”,” Who is the Sober Me?”, and “Where do I go from here?” all are not immediately answerable at this point, so they are left with a profound sense of uncertainty.
Excessive fear during recovery can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fear may keep a person from taking the necessary action, it can interfere with an individual’s ability to think clearly, it can bombard a person with excess stress, and it can even be used to justify a relapse.
Perhaps even worst of all, excessive fear can rob a person of the satisfaction and serenity that recovery promises.
Face Everything and Recover
In order to overcome their fears, people in recovery have to do something that they may never have done before in their lives – Face Their Fears. For many, this will be uncomfortable, but it is ofttimes the only way to achieve the emotional sobriety that follows the physical sobriety of abstinence.
There are several ways that a person can healthily face their fears in an attempt to diminish their negative impact upon his/her life:
- Read Fearless Change
- professional therapy
- 12-step fellowships
- utilizing relaxation techniques
- “mindfulness” meditation – which teaches the individual to view their fears as a reaction, not a reality. As such, reactions can be controlled.
- keeping a journal
- talking with trusted friends/loved ones
It is impossible to live a life without ever experiencing fear, especially for the addict or alcoholic whose life has heretofore been ruled by anxiety and uncertainty. For the person in recovery, the key to overcoming fear may be found in identifying what basic need is threatened and using assertive communication to lead to a changed attitude. If a person can learn to view their fears as a helpful guide to personal change, the negatives of anxiety and apprehension can be turned into the positives that come with a healthy and sober life.