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Willpower and Addiction: Can I Overcome Addiction Alone

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Addiction has long carried a significant stigma because it was once viewed by those who treated it as a choice. If someone drank too much alcohol or used drugs in the past, their peers may have felt they lacked willpower. Drug users or those who consumed alcohol were looked at as inferior or weak, leading to hiding use. Even worse, if you knew you were drowning in addiction and sought help, you were viewed negatively. Unfortunately, years of misinformation have caused a generation to avoid getting the support they need, but today, we know that addiction is a brain disease.

You might wonder, if addiction has nothing to do with willpower and it’s a disease that affects the brain, can I overcome addiction alone? Why should I put in work to get better? Once you take responsibility for your actions, you can start working on getting better. Keep in mind, it’s not your fault for developing the disease, but you’re responsible for managing the cards you’re dealt in life and taking steps to improve it. However, can you overcome addiction alone?

Some of the most common barriers to treatment include the stigma surrounding the topic, cost, and feeling like you aren’t ready to get help. You might think that overcoming addiction can be motivated by willpower alone, but you won’t get to the root of the cause without the proper care. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 21 percent of individuals who don’t seek treatment will achieve short-term abstinence, compared to 43 percent of those who seek treatment. Unfortunately, long-term relapse rates hover between 28 and 80 percent without help.

If you’ve attempted to recover alone, you understand the unique challenges faced during that time. Whether it was in the initial detox stage or struggling to overcome the symptoms of a co-occurring disorder, at some point, you found that entering into treatment would have made the process much more comfortable. Although you’ve decided to quit, cutting off ties with peers in the wrong crowd, making promises to yourself and loved ones, or even flushing your drugs, you probably returned to your old ways.

Without the right support, you will continue struggling with the patterns we listed above despite your best attempts to stop. No matter the level of discipline and work you put into sobriety, there are tools you can only learn under the supervision of trained professionals in addiction treatment.

Reasons Willpower Won’t Be Enough to Overcome Addiction

No matter how much you believe in yourself, it’s unlikely your willpower will be enough to conquer addiction. The issues you’ll face are complex, and even if you can overcome the acute withdrawals by yourself, you could succumb to relapse when your emotions that you’ve buried with drugs or alcohol come to the surface. 

Here are some other reasons why willpower alone isn’t enough to overcome addiction:

  • Addiction is a disease, not a choice: If you abstain from drugs or alcohol using willpower alone, you likely aren’t struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD). You never plan on becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, but once you’ve developed the condition, your power of choice slowly disappears. Once you move even further into addiction, you will lose all control over decision-making and will participate in unhealthy behaviors despite consequences. 
  • Making a decision isn’t enough: As was mentioned above, you may have made the noble effort to stop drinking or consuming drugs, but you’ve quickly realized that decision that keeping the promise is nearly impossible. Although your heart is in the right place and you’ve made the exemplary commitment, it won’t be enough to follow through with such a significant decision. The odds of maintaining long-term sobriety are much lower if you fail to seek medical care, therapy, and other means of support addiction treatment provides.
  • Your willpower suppresses trauma: If you’re struggling to overcome a traumatic past, your strong will may push it down further. It’s not easy to overcome addiction by yourself if you suppress pain, and you won’t overcome these issues when you fight a silent battle. You must speak up to start the healing process. 
  • Willpower will cause you to lose connections: Those who report the highest levels of success admitted to going through addiction treatment. If you believe that you can overcome addiction through willpower alone, you’ll see no reason to reach out to others for help. One of the most crucial pieces of the recovery process is connection, and avoiding others is detrimental to long-term success. 
  • Unfortunately, we forget very fast: Once you move forward into more normal life and overcome withdrawals or PAWS, we’re quick to forget about the challenges we went up against. Your willpower could have caused you to give up drugs and alcohol for a short period, but statistics point to a likely relapse without treatment. Unfortunately, drug users have a voice in their head that doesn’t disappear with sobriety and will tell you that it’ll be different this time around. Willpower isn’t enough to remind you of the damage caused by drugs or alcohol.
woman-stressed-trying-to-use-willpower-to-overcome-addiction

Is Willpower Useful At All in Addiction Recovery?

You may have been told to forego using willpower at all when you stop using drugs or alcohol, but you made an essential life-choice that requires willpower to follow through. We understand that admitting a problem with drugs and alcohol is a huge step, but it’s not enough to stop. At this stage, you must tap into your willpower to help you succeed in your path to recovery.

Only once you step outside of your comfort zone can you grow, and the whole process of recovery isn’t meant to be easy. It was created to help you grow and become more than just your addiction. Addiction is killing you at a rapid pace, and getting help is the only way to slow it down.

What Happens If I Lack Willpower?

First, you shouldn’t worry. Not everyone is built the same, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect the outcome from everyone. With that said, recovery does require a leap of faith that can only occur when you admit to the problem at hand. When you decide to start avoiding the people, places, and things that trigger you to drink or use drugs, you must practice self-care. When you cease drug or alcohol use, you must start exercising, change your eating habits, and find time for sober fun.

When self-control is lacking, you can learn it through methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). You must also seek a support network with family and peers if you feel that your willpower is starting to wane. While willpower isn’t the cause of addiction, it’s a part of the puzzle. To overcome addiction, you’ll need to develop new coping skills and educate yourself about the disease. 

Sources

NIDA (April 2020) Addressing the Stigma that Surrounds Addiction. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/04/addressing-stigma-surrounds-addiction

CDC (November 2020) Alcohol and Public Health. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm

MedlinePlus (November 2020) Drug Use and Addiction. from https://medlineplus.gov/druguseandaddiction.html

NCBI (September 2016) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279297/

NCBI (September 2007) Rates and Predictors of Relapse After Natural and Treated Remission From Alcohol Use Disorders. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1976118/

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