Why can’t I stop drinking so much or using drugs?

If there were any truth to the misconception, some people have, that all anyone must do if they genuinely want to stop drinking or using drugs is to say, “No,” “I’m done,” “That’s it. I quit,” then, there wouldn’t be nearly 35 million people in the U.S. today diagnosed with a substance use or alcohol use disorder.

If recovery from alcohol or drugs was as straightforward as a person saying, “I quit,” there wouldn’t be almost 35 million people in the United States diagnosed with an alcohol or substance use disorder. Recovering from addiction takes guidance, support and time. Regardless of the prevailing social stigma surrounding it, developing an addiction doesn’t mean you are a morally corrupt or weak individual.

Addictive substances like prescription or illicit drugs and alcohol can harm and hijack your brain, which is naturally hardwired to reward healthy behavior and help you make sound decisions. These substances can damage the prefrontal cortex’s ability to help you consider consequences before putting yourself in risky situations. Addiction also compromises your brain’s reward and pleasure circuits. Between cravings and compulsiveness, addiction can ultimately turn your brain against you.

Unlike trying to create or stop a regular habit, like eating fewer sweets or drinking more water, quitting alcohol or drugs will require more than your determination and willpower. Many people stay cocooned in their denial about addiction and never seek help.

It’s understandable. Sobriety is a lifestyle change. Committing to the recovery process can be an intimidating thing. At one point, using substances served a purpose—whether it was to escape reality or relieve stress. But if you’ve overcome the denial that your addiction is harming more than helping, your acceptance of reality and self-awareness will allow you to regain control of your life eventually.

Effective addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, you must find a treatment program to fit your recovery goals and appropriateness for your substance of choice. Still, most recovery options include a few essential elements such as detoxification from addictive substances, medications, behavioral psychotherapy and long-term support and follow-up. Treatment programs you can choose from include:

  • Outpatient treatment, which is a flexible way of receiving care by arranging your treatment time around work or school schedules. These programs focus a lot on relapse prevention.
  • Residential treatment, which lets you stay at a rehabilitation center (rehab) as an inpatient to receive 24-hour care and monitoring for a few days up to a few months.
  • Sober living communities, which usually work best for people after they’ve completed a residential program. They are supportive, safe, drug-free environments where recovering peers live together.
  • Day treatment, which is like outpatient treatment, is partial hospitalization that provides ongoing medical care at a treatment facility that requires seven to eight hours of participation and then allows you to spend the night at home.

Achieving sobriety from drugs or alcohol does not mark the completion of recovery. A drug-free lifestyle involves continuous change, effort and dedication. You want to work with clinicians to identify possible triggers, such as any person, place, item, circumstance or behavior that could easily elicit relapse by inciting urges and cravings to drink or use again. Identifying these triggers can help you devise a plan and develop strategies to avoid or escape from them.

Relapse is nothing to be frightened of or discouraged by because it is an inevitable part of recovery. Your ability to distract yourself from triggers and ride the slips and surges of motivation to remain sober may wane now and then. However, the most successful recoveries are the ones you make after you fall. No matter how many times you relapse, you can learn something new about yourself and become stronger for it. It’s a beautiful path, but recovery is far from a plain sailing journey.

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