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Willpower and Addiction: Can I Overcome Addiction Alone?

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Unfortunately, for many years, addiction has carried a significant stigma. This is because less was known about it in the years past than we know today, and it was believed to be a choice. If someone used drugs or drank too much alcohol in the past, everyone around them just assumed they lacked willpower. 

Anyone who used drugs or drank was seen as weak or inferior to their peers. As you might imagine, this harmed the person using, leading to them hiding their drug or alcohol use. Seeking help was viewed even worse, so it’s crucial to repair the damage from misinformation. Addiction is a chronic brain disease and should be treated as such.

However, you might wonder – if addiction is considered a disease and has little to do with willpower, can I overcome addiction alone? Is it possible to do the work and get better? First, someone battling addiction must admit to their sobriety before they can work on getting better. Remember, it’s not your fault you have this disease, but you are responsible for managing the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s time for you to take steps to improve your life. 

We understand that you might be thinking to yourself about how much it costs, the stigma that’s attached, or you flat out aren’t ready for help. The barriers to treatment are endless, but you might also feel you can overcome your addiction through willpower alone. By going this route, it’s impossible to get to the root of the cause. Addiction has many layers that can only be peeled back by an addiction specialist. An estimated 21 percent of individuals who don’t seek treatment will achieve short-term abstinence. That is compared to 43 percent who sought treatment.

If you’ve attempted to recover and overcome addiction alone, you understand the unique challenges you face. It could have been the initial withdrawal symptoms you met while detoxing, or perhaps it was post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that you couldn’t get past. If you were to enter treatment, you’d work alongside professionals who will provide medication and therapy techniques to deal with the symptoms. Despite feeling like it’s time to stop, flushing your stash, or cutting off ties with bad influences, you’ll probably return to your old ways.

Without a support group around you, the patterns we’ve listed above are likely to continue despite your best attempts to stop. You can be the most disciplined person you know that works hard toward their sobriety, but drug and alcohol addiction require specific coping skills to overcome, which can only be learned in treatment. 

Is Willpower Enough to Overcome Addiction?

As much as we’d like to believe we have the power to overcome anything, addiction is something that willpower alone won’t get you far. When you are dealing with complex issues attached to this disease, you need professional help. Here is a sample of the reasons why willpower won’t help you overcome addiction.

  • Addiction is not a choice; it’s a disease: If you can abstain from alcohol or drugs with willpower alone, you may not be dealing with a substance use disorder (SUD). We know you didn’t plan on becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, but once you’ve developed the condition, you’ll lose all power of choice. Once you move even further into addiction, you’ll start losing control of the decisions to use alcohol, drugs, and committing unhealthy behaviors. 
  • Willpower alone won’t suppress trauma: If you’re attempting to overcome a traumatic past, you might push it down using your strong will. Overcoming addiction is hard, but doing it alone is even more of a challenge. When you suppress your pain, you won’t overcome these issues if you’re fighting a silent battle. You must speak up to heal. 
  • Making a decision won’t be enough: As was mentioned above, you may have started taking the appropriate steps to stop using drugs or drinking. However, sticking to it and keeping that promise was impossible. You made the right commitments and had your heart in the right place, but it’s not enough when making a decision this great. Your odds of stopping in the long-term are much lower. It is especially true when you fail to go to therapy, get medical care, and support that you’ll receive in addiction treatment. 
  • You’ll lose connections with willpower alone: You’ll be the most successful in your recovery with help. If you keep pretending that you can overcome addiction through willpower alone, you’ll have no incentive to reach out to others for help and let them get to know you. Connection is a crucial piece in the recovery process, and when you avoid it, you set yourself up for failure. 
  • Through no fault of our own, we forget too fast: If you’re able to get past the withdrawals and lead a normal life, you’ll start forgetting about your past challenges. Although willpower can provide some hope in the short-term, statistics show that you’re more likely to relapse without help. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol users have a voice in their head that whispers that it’ll be different this time, meaning that willpower can’t remind you of the damage caused. 
woman-stressed-trying-to-use-willpower-to-overcome-addiction

Is Willpower Useful in Addiction Recovery?

You may have been told to forget about your willpower to stop using drugs or alcohol. Keep in mind; you made a crucial decision that requires willpower to follow through. The most challenging first step is admitting to the problem, but you’ll find it’s not enough to stop. You have to tap into your willpower to move forward on the recovery path. 

When you’re able to get outside of the comfort zone, you can start to grow. Addiction treatment isn’t designed with comfort in mind, and it’s not going to be easy, but continuing on this cycle of addiction can’t be easier. Addiction is killing you slowly, and getting help is the only way to curve that. 

What Happens If Willpower is Lacking?

Recovering from addiction takes a leap of faith, backed by the willingness to admit there’s a problem. Once you take responsibility for your actions and decide to put recovery first, you can start the process. You’ll need to make many changes in your life, including your eating habits, exercising more, and making time for sober fun that helps you stay in tune with yourself. 

Fortunately, for those lacking willpower and losing interest in their recovery, therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are designed to change your thought process and learn how to cope. It’s vital that you also create a social support network made up of your peers or family members. This way, if your motivation is lacking one day, you can rely on them to pick you up. 

Although willpower won’t cause your addiction, it also won’t be your way out. If you were experiencing asthma or any other medical conditions, you’d be expected to make some lifestyle changes to manage your condition. The same is true for addiction, and you must find new ways to cope and educate yourself to stay sober. 

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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