What does recovery from addiction look like? You may imagine yourself on a recovery path that is smooth, wide and straight.
Or your path may be winding and narrow, with rocks and overgrowth blocking your progress. Maybe your recovery isn’t a path at all, but a seemingly endless cycle of using and not using, a cyclical pattern of good periods of time followed by bad.
We ask this question because addiction recovery looks like the individual person, and no two people are alike. One person, through sheer will power and determination may be able to break the bonds of drug addiction, while another needs a multitude of services and nothing seems to work. Medical people might explain that contrast in terms of an alteration of brain chemistry by the drug, possibly connected directly to some clinical diagnosis of depression.
Others may deny completely that recovery has any medical component at all, that the recovering addict is one who has overcome the demons inside with no help from any therapist, counselor or physician.
If you accept, even for a moment, that recovery from addiction can be explained in terms of a cycle, most of this section will make sense to you. While there are those who bristle over the idea of people being “helpless” over addiction, experience seems to show that most people ARE helpless!
Cycle of Addiction
I. Triggering Event
There are so many contributing factors to addiction, but we will not go into that discussion here. For the purpose of this illustration, we will break down the triggering event into two categories. First, one might take drugs for recreation, to get “high.” This party approach to drugs may be thrill seeking, or have an element of peer pressure attached to it. The second category is “to numb the pain.” The person uses to get rid of a feeling, not to create one. Something hurts and the user is trying to numb that hurt. They may just want to feel better, because something is missing from their life, or they may want to escape a reality because it is too much to face.
In either case, whether to have a good time or to numb the pain, the cycle is started. They're not thinking about recovery from addiction because they're not convinced they have a problem.
II. Something is wrong
Many people can use drugs and not get hooked. They may realize that their using is getting in the way, or they just do not enjoy or need to use the drug anymore. They quit and it’s over. However, that is not true for so many people, who arrive at the point where they determine there is a problem, but they are still using. Perhaps they're experiencing problems at work, or in personal relationships. Because they are using, they may have run into legal problems, such as a DWI/DUI and they realize that change is necessary. They begin to consider recovery from addiction. The pain medication they have been taking for a knee injury is no longer sufficient, so they take more medication, more often to control their physical discomfort. They know they have to do something.
III. Try Harder
When the management of their drug use begins to slip away, people will say “I’m going to cut back.” They know something is amiss, but they do not want to go through the fuss of treatment, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Maybe they’ve cut back in the past, or quit altogether, but started using again. They are going to try harder. People don’t want to be told what to do, or how to do something, they want to do it their way. It’s not just people struggling with drug addiction, it’s anybody. American culture reveres the individualist who proudly proclaims, “I did it my way.”
Some people can try harder and succeed. God bless them. Managing recovery from addiction is serious work and if somebody can “cut back” or stop using on their own power, that’s much to their credit. But most people can’t. The finger pointers will say it’s because of a lack of will power, or a weakness of character. They say those who use drugs are evil people. However, if one were to examine the other side of the issue and look at the addiction in terms of an alteration of brain chemistry, rendering some individuals powerless because of a chronic brain disease, then effort alone seems unrealistic.
Moreover, we are human beings and human beings fail. Nobody bats 1.000 in baseball, and even a player who is considered a great hitter is going to fail seven times out of ten. The world sees a .300 hitter and calls him a star, but he failed in his seven other attempts. If you are batting .300 in your fight against drug addiction, you’re failing. Think of it in terms of trying to cut back or quit. Smokers can tell you their stories and we’ve all heard them. They’re good at quitting. But it isn’t that easy and neither is recovery from addiction. If it were, there would be no smokers, and if drug addiction were that easy to overcome, why would there be addicts?
Let’s suppose, for sake of illustration, that a person has made the determination to quit. Being a rational and intelligent person, they formulate a plan to follow and they try hard to execute the plan. They are succeeding. A woman in a recovery from addiction group once told me that she had “not used” for seven years. Through will power and a plan, she was clean for seven years, but something happened and she found herself at the next stage of the addiction cycle.
Nobody likes to admit failure. It’s an ugly word in the Western culture. We like to think of ourselves as self-made people. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and become famous, or financially independent. We did the work and we deserve the reward. Failure is not permitted and those who fail are weak and undeserving. In America, only those who win are given the credit. After all, the loser of the big game doesn’t get the parade. People apply winning and losing to recovery from addiction, as if it were some kind of sporting or business competition. If you failed, you’re a loser.
What if failure was built into the human condition as a necessary indicator of a need for something outside of one’s own self? Alcoholics Anonymous founded its 12-Step program on that very idea, that we all need help. We’re not meant to be alone, and even though there are those who can break free of addiction on their own, the truth is most of us can’t. Coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective, this writer sees human failure as a measuring device, to show us that we need God. A medical person might see failure in recovery from addiction as an indicator that brain chemistry is still out of balance. Frame the failure anyway you like.
The failure can be caused for a variety of reasons. The cycle has come full circle, because something happened. Perhaps in a moment of weakness a person took a hit off a crack pipe, or they experienced a traumatic event that was just too much to handle, or any one a thousand reasons prompted them to use again. They are back where they started and they need help.
Addiction is a chronic disease in our view. The key word is “chronic,” and like diabetes or heart disease, addiction needs to be managed. People need management tools to help them keep their lives in balance and to prevent the grip of addiction from squeezing its fingers around their throat.
The cycle needs to be broken, not just stopped. Whatever the triggering mechanism that causes someone to use, it needs to be addressed. We maintain that the root causes of addiction have to be examined to prevent the cycle from continuously spinning. Go to the cause, like dealing with a business management situation, and address the issue, formulate a plan and manage the problem.
People can and do break the cycle. If you can break the cycle on your own, great, but if you can’t there are caring, compassionate professional people to work with you and help you to try or in many cases try AGAIN to break the recovery from addiction cycle!
Question about drug addiction recovery:
Drug addicted husband?
(Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)
My husband is addicted to ICE but has taken all other illegal drugs also in the past. When I first met him he smoked marijuana but then in the last 10 years started using harder drugs.
He would have episodes of hard drug using for days in a row and would disappear and stay awake for this period of time. He also has periods where he seems clean (I think? as his behaviour seems normal).
Of late he has started again and when he does he hates everyone but normally I am always his punching bag (not literally) he would be very abusive verbally but has never hit me but I am scared that may change.
I did leave him several times but have come back because I feel sorry for him and because I know he is normally a very nice person but these drugs have changed him, plus we have 3 children who love him so much.
I don't know what to do, I want to leave but again have this idea that maybe he will get help and I try to drill that into him over and over but he keeps denying he has a problem then turns it onto me somehow and how everything is my fault.
What should I do?
by: Ned Wicker
Call it a substance use disorder or call it addiction, but it is a brain disease that robs people of the ability to make good choices, it robs them of their ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships and it robs them of their humanity.
It sounds like your husband is on a downward spiral and soon it will get in the way of everything. He won’t want to be a husband, a father or a person with any ambition. He’ll just want to get high.
Feeling sorry for him is not going to help him overcome his disease. Your leaving and coming back sends the wrong message. It tells him he can manipulate you. It tells him he can do anything and get away with it.
You also say he abuses you verbally and that you believe it could become physical abuse. That should tell you a lot. Do you really want to live in the same house with a person you feel will strike you someday? Is he going to harm the children?
Ask a simple question--is your husband good for your children? You will say he loves them. OK, how much does he love them, enough to stop using drugs? You have to determine how you want to live and what kind of future you want for your children.
I would explore treatment centers in Melbourne and at the same time call Alcoholics Anonymous to seek some help and support for yourself. You need to come up with a plan to help get your husband into treatment. His problem isn’t going to just vanish on its own, so you need to have some help from professional people.
If your husband refuses to get treatment, or stop his drug use and continues to display the same behavior characteristics, you will be left with an important decision to make--to leave permanently or be a victim. You have your children to think of.