alcohol and other drugs

Compulsion

I was thinking about ways to explain addiction to someone the other day.  I spent quite a while thinking about the various characteristics of us addicts, and the one thing that I came up with that seemed to cover us all is compulsion: as applied to addicts, a strong, usually irresistible impulse to do things that are not in our best interest.

I was actively addicted to other drugs and behavior as well, but the one that brought me to recovery was alcohol.  Something else would have, but I drank the longest and booze got to me first.  I remember the compulsion so clearly.

Originally, I didn't notice it.  I drank and drugged when it wasn't an especially good idea for quite a while, and eventually all the time, but I made excuses why it was okay.  I needed to sleep, and a drink or a pill (or both) would help. Those people were such a pain that I needed a drink to mellow out before going to that dinner party.  When I got there, it would have been rude not to have a drink (or a line) when offered.  And of course, after the first couple, the rest seemed like a very good idea indeed.

As the old saying goes, “denial ain't just a river in Africa.”  A good solid dose of that commodity enabled me to justify the things I was compelled to do, and to overlook that fact that they weren’t in my best interest and that I had to do them.

Toward the end, though, it wasn't that way.  Some months before I got clean and sober, the excuses ran out.  The other drug use, which mainly supported my drinking, may or may not have been out of control, but I was obviously powerless when it came to booze.  The times when I tried not to drink, or not drink more and failed, were countless.  I felt ashamed.  I felt hopeless.  I felt as though I was no longer in control of my life — and I wasn't.

I would come home from work determined to have a couple of beers, and kill a six-pack and half a bottle of vodka or rum.  I have absolutely no idea how much I drank or how many drugs I used on my days off.  Knowing that I couldn’t drink on the job (although I eventually did that too), I took pills provided by a helpful doctor to deal with the urge for the eight hours until I could get to a bottle.  I’d tell myself that I wasn’t going to drink — that I couldn’t drink — and yet I always did.  I never got to the point of withdrawal.  I didn't drink or use because I was sick, I did it because I could, and because I had to.  With alcohol and other drugs in my system, I was powerless.  I was unable to stop doing something that I knew was not only not in my best interest, but that I knew was killing me.

Eventually I reached the point of giving up.  I knew I had to drink, had no idea that I could actually quit, and figured I’d end up dying drunk.  Over time — a short time — it became clear that it wouldn’t take much longer.  I carried a gun for a living, and I knew exactly how to use it.

Well, I got lucky and an intervention brought me to treatment and  sobriety.   When I got sober I found that I was no longer powerless over some of my addictions (as long as I didn't use), but that there were other compulsions that needed attention.  Although I was clean of alcohol and other drugs, I still smoked, and I decided that I couldn’t go around calling myself clean and sober unless I finished the job.  It took me three years to kick the most dangerous addiction of all, but a couple of weeks ago I had twenty years smoke-free as well.  Yay me!  And I mean that.  It was harder than getting sober.  I couldn’t have done it without my program of recovery.  Quitting’s not for sissies.

I remember those compulsions.  Do I ever!  The need for a drink.  The need for nicotine.  The need for another pill.  I remember the lies I told myself: that one more wouldn’t hurt; that I’d quit as soon as (insert excuse) was over and I could relax a little.  That I'd cut down. That the next one wouldn’t kill me.  I remember.  It scares me to death.  I like my life too much to take the chance of encouraging those compulsions to return, so I don’t use.  Chemicals controlled my life: where I could go, who I could go with, what I could do, and when.

I like freedom.

Addiction and Alcoholism — There Is A Solution

A reprise of our last conversation:

Before we start talking about drug detox, alcohol detox, and alcohol and drug treatment, let's review what we covered in the last two posts about powerlessness and unmanageability.

Looking forward to your own sunrise?  Let us help.We discussed how we are powerless over alcohol and other drugs only while they are in our systems. People who are addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, opiates — whatever — are urged by the non-thinking (primitive) brain to seek more drugs.  This message is so powerful that we subconsciously believe that we will die if we do not use.  Once we have been through detox, the numbing effect on the thinking brain is reduced and we become able to think more clearly and make decisions about our further recovery.

We also considered how our lives had been unmanageable in a variety of ways: relationships, jobs, financial issues, legal problems and so forth — no surprise, since we had been turning off our ability to think critically and make good decisions.  Unmanageability, we said, involves the details, and they in turn affect the overall quality of our life and the lives of those around us.

So, how do we deal with the practical issues?

First of all, we have to detox.  Inpatient detox with the appropriate medical support is nearly always the way to go if possible.  The detox process involves physical and emotional issues (including those urges we talked about) that are best managed by experts.  There are ways to make the process far more comfortable than simply doing it “cold turkey,” and much safer as well.  Accredited detoxification facilities are also more trustworthy.

There is a growing industry of practitioners who prescribe maintenance drugs over long periods.  This simply substitutes one drug with another.  Physical recovery and, to a great degree, the other aspects of returning to productive status in society depend on the brain's ability to repair itself in the absence of drugs.  Drug maintenance, whether by storefront doctors or government programs, does not create a drug-free brain, and inhibits the needed repairs. Inpatient detox provides the support and safe space needed to get through this most difficult period, along with good nutrition, education and fellowship.

After detox, the best course is treatment in an impatient treatment facility that combines therapy with education, good food, exercise, and exposure to outside support programs such as AA, NA and the vast number of other fellowships. While this writer is a strong proponent of 12 Step programs, there are a wide variety of others, including faith-based, that are capable of providing the companionship, support and guidance that we need in early recovery.

If we cannot afford, or are otherwise unable to manage extended inpatient treatment, then deep immersion in the fellowship of these groups is our best resource.  It is not impossible to get clean and stay clean on your own, but why reinvent the wheel?  Millions of people have successfully gotten and remained clean and sober.  Not utilizing their experience, strength and hope could be fatal.