Just because people have managed to walk away from alcohol abuse does not mean that their problems are over. Recovery means building a new and better life away from substance abuse. This takes a bit of effort. Those who fail to make the necessary changes to their life end up suffering because of it. They may resolutely refuse to return to substance abuse yet they fail to find much satisfaction in their new life. This situation is sometimes referred to as white knuckle sobriety by members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The words white knuckle are often used to describe a situation where something is leading to intense nervousness. A good example would be a scary rollercoaster; people just grab onto the handrails as tight as they can and wait for it all to be over. White knuckle sobriety is in some ways similar to this. The individual is just using pure willpower to stay sober. It is like they are just hanging on in there waiting for the ride to end. This is not a satisfactory way to live in recovery, and it can almost always be avoided.
White knuckle sobriety is closely related to another AA term called the dry drunk. This is where people give up alcohol but otherwise carry on with their life in much the same way as before. Such an individual can be described as not having had a drink in years yet they still have not managed to get sober. Such a person may be full of anger and resentment because they have found life away from alcohol to be such a disappointment.
The dangers of white knuckle sobriety include:
* Such people are more at risk of relapse. There may come a day when there willpower is no longer enough to keep them away from alcohol. The lack of enjoyment they experience from recovery means that they have a lot less to lose by relapsing.
* Those people who use just willpower to stay away from alcohol can be difficult to be around. They will tend to have a low tolerance for any type of irritation, and make life miserable for other people. Family and friends may be disappointed to find that they still suffer so much from the behavior of the individual even though there is no longer any alcohol involved.
* People with white knuckle sobriety will find life away from alcohol a real challenge. Instead of enjoying the freedom of recovery, they just muddle through. These individuals fail to make the most of the possibilities offered by a life away from alcoholism.
* It may lead to depression or other forms of substance abuse
White knuckle sobriety develops for a number of reasons including:
* People get stuck in their recovery, and they fail to rectify the situation. This is because recovery is a process and not an event. Building a life away from alcoholism takes a bit of time and effort. The individual will have picked up many faulty coping mechanisms and so will need to develop new more effective ways of dealing with the world. During the early months and years of recovery people are faced with different challenges, and it is only by successfully tackling these that they progress. If the individual refuses to face a challenge they become stuck.
* Terminal uniqueness is when people believe they are better or worse than everyone else. It is a mindset where people are convinced that there problems are special and so require special solutions. It may mean that they refuse to learn from the experience of other people in recovery and insist on just following their own path.
* Some people become complacent and just take recovery for granted. They believe that just giving up alcohol is enough and no further effort is needed.
* There are individuals who are staying sober for other people and not themselves. They treat recovery like it is a prison sentence and not as something to be enjoyed.
The term white knuckle sobriety has entered common usage, but it is still most associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. There have been criticisms of how this term is used. It is sometimes used by AA members to describe people who are not following a twelve step program. The idea that failure to follow their program means an inferior type of sobriety is a highly controversial idea – it also does not have much to support it. There are plenty of people who have managed to build a successful life in recovery with any help from 12 step programs.
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