Recovery is a Step into the Unknown
Escaping an addiction involves an effort. It involves taking a step into the unknown with the faith that it is going to lead to something good. Even when the addict accepts that their behavior is destroying their life, they may still be unwilling to change. An oft heard claim is that it is better the devil you know. The life of an addict is predictable and this can provide a measure of comfort. A life free of alcohol and drugs is unknown territory, and this can mean that the addict is afraid to take this path. The individual will have become physically and psychologically dependent on an addictive substance. Breaking away may involve some discomfort. This is another excuse that addicts have to remain as they are.
Fear of Life in Recovery
The addict may believe that their current situation is normal. If they have not experienced a life free of alcohol and drugs for a long time, they will forget what this was like. They may just assume that life in recovery is similar to what they have now but without the comfort of their chemical crutch. If they are not convinced that life in recovery is going to be significantly better than what they have now such a change will appear unappealing.
Addicts often fear that life in recovery will be boring. It may seem like a future of depriving themselves of the one thing they get comfort from. Instead of viewing recovery as a chance for freedom and happiness, they see it as being similar to serving a prison sentence. With such opinions of recovery it is hardly surprising that they are unwilling to take such a step.
Addiction and Denial
One of the ways that the individual can remain comfortable in addiction is through denial. They will have a million excuses for why they have so many problems in their life. They will blame their job, their family, and their friends – they may even blame the weather. The one thing they won’t blame is their substance abuse. Instead they will view this as their only comfort in the storm. Life often has to become particularly bad before the individual is able to see past their denial.
Social Support for Addiction
Addicts tend to spend a lot of time with other people who share their priorities. Such a group will provide social support for the addictive behavior. The members of this group will not be judgmental about addictive behavior, but instead they will encourage it. The individual will gain emotional and physical support from this group. They begin to rely on this group for their identity, and it can hard to walk away from such comfort. Leaving addiction behind can also mean parting with friends, and this is a step many will be unwilling to take. Even though such relationships can be highly dysfunctional it may be the only social support the individual can rely on.
Co-Dependency and Addiction
Addiction not only impacts the life of the addict but also those around them. Close family and work colleagues may do their best to make up for the addict’s behavior. In a lot of situations they will have a spouse who has become co-dependent. This means that the partner has started to put the addict’s needs ahead of their own; in fact their whole identity has become taken over by their spouse’s behavior. A co-dependent partner makes life easier for the addict, but it is a very unhealthy relationship.
Alcohol and Drug Dependence
Addicts become physically and psychologically dependent on the addictive substance they are abusing. Breaking such this dependence can require a high degree of motivation. The individual will find it difficult to imagine life without their favorite chemical. They will also have developed cravings that encourage them to keep on using. Their bodies will have physically adapted to the alcohol or drug abuse so that they will experience withdrawal symptoms should they ever try to stop.
If the individual has been abusing the substance for many years they may have severe symptoms when they try to give up. In some cases they may risk death unless their withdrawals are medically supervised. Fear of the dangers and unpleasantness of these symptoms can also convince the addict to keep on using.
Addiction as Self-Medication
It is believed that a high proportion of addicts have a dual diagnosis. This means that as well as an addiction they also have another mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorder. They may be aware or unaware of this other condition. Such people may have turned to substance abuse as a way to deal with the symptoms of this other condition. In the beginning this may have provided some relief. Self-medication is not a good way to deal with the symptoms of mental health problems, but the individual can be reluctant to accept this.
Addiction and Incentive Salience
Incentive Sensitization Theory offers other reasons for why the individual can remain trapped into addiction. It is suggested that neurobiological changes in the body occur at the subconscious level and these are the driving force behind the addictive behavior. It leads to an urge to use these addictive substances that is far stronger than merely liking them. The individual may even begin to dislike the substance but still feel compelled to use it. The fact that this motivation is originating in the subconscious makes it more difficult to deal with.
Hitting Rock Bottom
In a lot of cases the individual will need to hit rock bottom before they are willing to change. The comfort of addiction is completely illusionary, but it can take an upheaval before the individual is able to see through this illusion. Reaching rock bottom is completely subjective. In AA they describe it as taking a ride down on a lift; it is up to the occupant to decide where they want to get off. Some individuals won’t need to lose too much before they have decided they’ve had enough; other people will ride the lift down all the way to the bottom and die as a result.
While hitting rock bottom will provide the motivation to change, it is important that addicts don’t wait for this event to occur. It is up to them to decide when they’ve lost enough, and there is no requirement to lose everything. Some addicts will promise themselves that they will get help when things get bad enough. They may even worry that getting help before this magical rock bottom occurs may doom them to failure. This type of thinking is dangerous because for a lot of people their rock bottom will be death. The addict is always able to stop their descent at any time.
Increasing Motivation to Escape Addiction
In order for the individual to be willing to escape the comfort of addiction they need a high degree of motivation. Such motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic in nature. Intrinsic motivation is when the individual does something because they think it is the best thing to do. Extrinsic motivation is when people do things because of peer pressure or societal expectations. Choice theory suggests that only intrinsic motivation plays a part when it comes to beating addiction.
One way to increase motivation is by increasing self-efficacy. This is the belief that an individual has in their ability to achieve a goal. If the addict has high self-efficacy in regards to beating an addiction they will be far more likely to succeed. Self-efficacy can be increased by:
* Modeling the behavior of others. If the addict can see that their peers are able to build a life away from drugs it can increase their motivation to do the same.
* Experiencing success. If the individual experiences success it means that they will have higher self-efficacy the next time they try to do the same action.
* Social persuasion. A skilled therapist is often able to boost self-efficacy by persuading the individual that they will be able to accomplish the goal.
Escaping the Comfort of Addiction
There are a number of ways that the individual can increase their motivation to escape addiction including:
* Learning more about the possibilities of recovery. This could involve reading inspirational material by those who have managed to escape addiction.
* Learning about the many dangers of addiction
* Spending time with people who have beater their addiction
* Attending a session with an addiction specialist or therapist
* Investigating the benefits of attending rehab
* Self-monitoring techniques such as a journal monitoring alcohol use