Introduction to a recovery process can be a shock to the system and ideology of any addict, whether they are alcohol, drug addicts, or other behavior addicts; which are called process addictions, such as gambling, sex, or video game addictions. Believing that abstinence is the only method for recovery to begin is the premise underlying most successful treatment options. Whether they are in 12-step recovery or not, abstinence is the key for nearly all recovery from addictions of any kind.
Relapse is very common for those who have an initial introduction to treatment for an addiction. The numbers cited in the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, the earliest recovery program, was at 65%. This number has not changed a great deal since the inception of the book that named their society in 1939. Little has occurred during the years since then to alter this statistic. Treatment of many types has introduced the concept of addiction to mainstream media in all parts of the world, but has not been able to offset the concept of relapse.
It is as if the addict must test his or her newfound information about addiction by participating in a return to the old behaviors and patterns to see if they truly have this problem. Many of these addicts will return to recovery to maintain abstinence and will eventually succeed in recovery from the addiction(s).
However, the process of determining that they are, in fact, addicts, can be quite interesting and enlightening. As they begin, they will attempt to do the very same things that they had tried before treatment to stop or control the addictive behavior. This may include, but is not limited to these popular themes:
- To have no more than 1 drink or hit of a drug during a specified time frame,
- To only participate in the behavior on weekends,
- To drink or drug only during specific hours of the day,
- To eat certain foods before they drink or drug,
- To stop legal consequences by not driving their car when drinking/drugging,
- To only participate in the behavior when alone,
- To not participate in the behavior at all without companionship,
- To only drink or drug substances that they don’t enjoy as much as their favorites,
- To never borrow money for gambling, drinking or drugs,
There are many ways to attempt to control behaviors that are already out of control. Others have done these and many more things to control addictive behavior. This then, brings us to the natural argument of whether it is “nature or nurture” that creates addiction. Is it a genetic factor that determines who will develop an addiction? Or is it a learned phenomenon? No one can answer this question completely. It is not an important point for this conversation.
What is important is the knowledge that when one has developed an addiction, they cannot successfully work themselves out of it by any means. This is a difficult and painful realization to come to for addicts. They want to shape their addiction into something that can be handled by them with the benefits of their mind and willpower. This is not to be. The sooner they learn that they have no control over addiction, the better their initial steps into recovery will be.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.