About this time every year, panic starts to set in for those who have a problem with alcohol and drugs.
The problem isn’t the cause of the panic. The problem has been identified and acknowledged. The panic stems from the decision that, come Jan. 1, the problem will end because the abuse of alcohol or drugs will end.
If only it were that easy.
For loved ones and family members who are dubious about the New Year’s resolutions of alcoholics and drug addicts, I can assure you of this — their resolutions are sincere. They truly want to stop (well … most of them, anyway), and most will do everything they can to do so.
But unless they’re willing to dig a little deeper and address the reasons they get high or drink in the first place, it’s doubtful they’ll remain steadfast in those resolutions. I speak from personal experience.
The first flaw in their plan is thinking that drinking (or not drinking) and getting high (or not getting high) is a matter of willpower. Assert enough of it, many people still believe, and the using and drinking can be conquered. If it were that easy — if alcoholics and addicts could simply put down the dope and the booze and walk away without a second thought — then there wouldn’t be a need for treatment centers or 12-Step meetings, and our jails and prisons would have a lot more room.
The fact is, alcoholism and addiction are diseases — recognized by every medical group from the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association. There are biological changes that take place in the brains of addicts and alcoholics, changes that mimic the same needs for food and water. An addict believes, truly believes, that he needs drugs for his very survival; tests have repeatedly shown that in an experimental setting, rats will choose to dose themselves with cocaine over food until they starve to death.
So, physiologically, it’s a lot more difficult than simply putting down the drugs or alcohol and declaring, “No more.” Is it impossible? No. But I was never able to just walk away, and neither could so many others in recovery whom I know.
On top of the physical addiction, there are psychological and emotional considerations to take into account. When it comes down to it, I enjoyed getting high because it changed the way that I felt. I didn’t like to “feel” any sort of emotional pain, so I got high to numb it or forget about it or cover it up. When I was feeling good, I got high to feel even better. In other words, I used drugs to change the way that I felt— and I did it for so long that it became a sort of psychic crutch. Whenever the drugs wore off and reality set in, I couldn’t deal with it. I felt like I needed heroin or Oxycontin to keep from falling apart mentally as well as physically.
Finally, there’s the spiritual aspect of addiction, a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that gets deeper and deeper the longer an addict or alcoholic goes without getting help. Recovery has taught me that we’re all inter-connected as human beings, that there’s a duty and responsibility we have to ourselves, one another and society as a whole to be decent, responsible and productive people. It’s not New Age or cultish; it’s basic common sense and decency, the kind we’re all raised to appreciate and respect.
Addiction begins by destroying our self-esteem and self-worth. If we can’t respect ourselves, how can we respect other people? And the more drugs we do … the deeper into our addiction that we spiral … the more harm we do to others, and society, to keep our addiction active. We rob and steal and con and manipulate and lie and cheat to get drugs … we get high … we sober up and remember what we’ve done and are consumed by guilt, so to keep from feeling that guilt we do whatever it takes to get more drugs … and the cycle repeats itself.
As you can see, addiction is more than just a “bad habit” that we can set aside with the simple changing of a calendar page. My addiction didn’t care if it was Jan. 1 or June 13 … I had to get high and keep getting high until I was ready to get help.
And that’s the thing — if an addict or alcoholic truly wants to get better … if they sincerely want to change their ways and do something different with their lives … then perhaps they should ask themselves: What are they willing to do? If the answer is “anything,” and if they’re serious about following through, then they don’t have to do it alone.
There are legions of recovering addicts and alcoholics around the world who have been staying clean and sober for days and months and years. We come together in various programs — 12-Step and otherwise — to offer one another support and to do right by ourselves and our new way of life. And we cherish every new member that walks in the door.
If someone in your life is struggling with addiction or alcoholism and vows to stop on Jan. 1, tell them that they don’t have to struggle. They don’t have to panic because they feel they won’t be able to cope without alcohol or drugs. They don’t have to do it alone, because they’re not alone. There are others of us who will help — who want to help — if they’re just willing to reach out a hand.