The good news is that most people do recover from addiction. While there are many options for supported recovery there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach which works for everybody. There is a list of places to consider here.
The first step to recovery is realising you have a big problem You are doing things which you hate doing but can’t stop doing. You’re aware of the damage you’re doing to others as well as yourself but you may be powerless to stop. or you may go a day, a week or a month then relapse. Some hit a very bad place before they admit they have a problem. One of the key attributes of addiction is denial that you have a problem. You’ll deny it to others and you’ll deny it to yourself before taking on board the truth that you have a problem which seems to be overwhelming. It’s not necessray to hit rock bottom; often a big scare does the job.
A hard thing to do next is to open up about it to someone. This may be especially hard for people who have internalised a lot of guilt and shame, and the social stigma that addiction is a character or moral weakness. It’s hard to get over this but you have to take the step. It could be a friend you talk to or a family member. Best would be a GP. Although there is some evidence that many doctors need more awareness of addictions, they will alays try to refer you to somewone which can help. If you’re suffering from alcohol addiction, a doctor can prescribe a home detox course of medication to ease withdrawal, or refer you to hospital.
Some people find that 12-steps programmes help them beat their addiction. Gamblers Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc. It is very hard to go into a room full of strangers and talk about yourself, but this is another hard thing you have to do. Sadly, some people find that the pressure is too much and don’t last long. After a few weeks from admitting to your problem and setlling in to meetings, you may well find it’s working for you. The relief of having ‘come out’, of having people talk about addiction in a totally non-judgmental way, the regularity of meetings, the slowly growing support of family or others as you begin your journey, all provide a great boost. The 12-steps method comes with the belief that you must accept that addiction is for life and you must follow the programme for life.
There are some who benefit greatly from 12-steps but then drop out for various reasons. Oddly, despite the central belief of addiction’s being for life, some ex 12-steppers have found that after six months or so, they’ve lost the urges they had, their lives have improved, and they move on. It may well be that irrespective of the 12 steps method, it is the regular meetings, the commitment to recovery, the sharing with others about addiction which provide the necessary support. Indeed several other recovery methods, such as SMART recovery, share these three things.
Some recovery philosophies centre on the belief that addiction is a learned behaviour which can be unlearned. It is not a disease or a lifelong curse. Programmes that follow this philosophy often aim to restore the former addict to controlled substance or behavioural use. Such an approach, of course, is incompatible with the 12-steps approach.
Other people in recovery benefit from individual counselling or talking treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Some mix and match different methods.
Many addicts suffer from more than one addiction. People who have a problem with gambling, for instance, often have an alcohol problem too. To complicate things, many have an often undiagnosed mental health disorder. There are correlations between some disorders such as ADHD and Bi-polar and the likelihood of addiction. Many become addicted to substances and behaviours as self-medication to lessen the pains of anxiety, depression and despair. Depression and anxiety often accompany recovery from addiction. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the trauma of early adverse childhood experiences and domestic abuse often underly addiction. So for many addicts, many dimensions are involved and will often require professional intervention.
Add to this that addiction may proceed from a chaotic life or may lead to a chaotic life, one which impacts negatively on relationships, finance, employment, housing, crime and so on, and it can be seen that addiction can be tangled in a range of confounding factors, and for some, who have ‘multiple and complex needs’, recovery will be multi-faceted.
Yet it must be observed that for many addicts with none or few of the complicating factors, people who seem from the outside to ‘have everything going for them’ fail to overcome addictive behaviour as successfully as others who have lots going against them. Such is the nature of the beast.
Recovery is often a long and hard process, but no individual’s story should be taken as typical. Some may be struggling greatly after five years or more while others seem to have achieved a state where after a year or less they can stop thinking totally about addiction and move on with their lives. One remarkable and under-publicised fact about addiction is that a very high percentage of addicts recover with no treatment or intervention at all. A consensual figure from across research settles at between 30% and 40% of such people. A large part of this is due to the ‘maturing out’ factor: younger addicts replace their addiction as they grow with employment and family. Maturity too often comes quite late in life! Such ‘spontaneous recovery’ is very common. A recent claim puts he figure much higher, at 75% (but, obviously, this is based on limited research – as all research is limited).
If you are currently stuck in a dreadful, lonely place and feel there is no way out, please take the first steps. There is no single way to start your journey but once you admit your problem and talk to someone there is a great deal of support out there. Addiction is a wretched condition that can befall anybody. It is not a sign of weakness or badness.