“You can quit if you want to bad enough…”
“Why don’t you just try to be strong and quit drinking?”
“Addicts are just morally-weak people.”
None of these statements is remotely true, but that doesn’t stop people from expressing their opinions again and again to individuals suffering from addictions. Although the person giving the opinion may have the best of intentions, misinformed statements like this can actually be harmful and hurtful to the addict/alcoholic.
In essence, every opinion above is telling the alcoholic/addict that he is weak because he can’t beat the addiction. If that opinion is given frequently enough by enough people, the sufferer may actually start to believe it. And, if a person can become convinced that they are weak and inadequate, then they will despair of ever recovering.
Let us say this clearly – addiction is not a moral weakness.
“Using addictive drugs can evolve from controlled social use into the compulsive relapsing disorder that characterizes addiction… Advances over the last decade have identified the brain circuits most vulnerable to drug-induced changes, as well as many associated molecular and morphological underpinnings. This growing knowledge has contributed to an expanded understanding of how drugs usurp normal learning circuitry to create the pathology of addiction, as evidenced by involuntary activation of reward circuits in response to drug-associated cues and simultaneous reports of drug craving.”
~Peter W. Kalivas and Charles O’Brien, Drug Addiction As a Pathology of Staged Neuroplasticity, Neuropsychopharmacology, September 2007
Look at some of the words – “compulsive“, “vulnerable“, “drugs usurp normal learning“, and “involuntary“. This paints a vivid picture clearly demonstrating that addiction is in no way a choice.
Addiction is a brain disorder that is influenced by a person’s genetics, development, and their sociological environment. The most important factor in this equation is a person’s genetic makeup. This is why some people – most people – can drink socially or even occasionally use recreational drugs without crossing over the threshold to addiction.
Addicts are genetically predisposed to the extent that recreational/social drinking or drug use affects and changes their brains in a manner completely different than that of non-addictive personalities.
Decades of research has clearly demonstrated that addiction to alcohol or drugs is based on pathological alterations in brain function caused by the repeated influence of the abused substance upon the brain’s circuits, specifically those circuits that control how a person experiences and responds to pleasurable, rewarding behavior such as the procurement of food or sex.
To put it more clearly, the portion of the brain that rewards an individual for engaging in a positive behavior is hijacked by the drug. Now, the brain rewards the addict for using drugs, at a cost of reduced pleasure in other activities.
Soon, virtually the only activity that creates any enjoyment or produces any effort is the finding, procuring, and using of the legal drug alcohol or federally-illegal substances. Chasing that feeling, the addict’s time is spent drug-seeking and drug-using.
Once again, none of this is a consciously-controllable decision. It is not a choice.
Only through the intervention of a structured professional addiction treatment rehabilitation plan can a person have a reasonable hope of recovery. The typical pattern of recovery for the most severe cases of addiction that creates the best chance for success follows this road map:
- drug/alcohol detox – medically-supervised with medication has proven to be the safest
- inpatient rehabilitation – 90 days or more is optimal
- long-term outpatient rehab – sometimes up to a year or more
As you can see, getting sober is definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s hard, it’s time-consuming, and when your addiction is severe enough, there are no shortcuts.
However, if the addict/alcoholic gets the proper level of support, along with the right behavioral and cognitive adjustment therapy and anti-craving medication, it is entirely possible – even likely – that that person can abstain long enough for their brain chemistry to return to proper balance.
Once balanced, the recovering alcoholic/addict can employ the strategies and exercises learned in rehab to affect lasting positive changes in their life.