Overview: While wanting to curtail substance use is crucial to recovery, it isn’t the only part of the process. Instead, evidence has found that when in recovery, that will has to be applied to multiple different strategies, not just to not using.
Why Do We Think Of Substance Users As “Weak?”
The history of addiction and its cultural perceptions go back to the Victorian era of medicine, when people who used drugs like opium were supposedly reduced to being unable to move due to their inability to resist the siren call of the drug.
Yet most of the people clucking their tongues at opium addiction would be engaging in behavior that we now consider reflective of a serious alcohol abuse problem, such as drinking at all meals and at work, and they would insist they were strong and full of vitality.
Why? Because everyone around them was doing it, their culture and daily life were built around it, and since they held down jobs and paid their bills, clearly they weren’t in the same class as opium smokers. Their environment and its culture normalized the behavior. Similarly, many people in recovery are gainfully employed, have families, and otherwise don’t fit the stereotypes.
Secondly, recovery is not simply a matter of “not using.” Recovery is about determining why you began, why you continued, and why you’re making an effort to stop. A recent study conducted by researchers as Macquarie University found that while many people in recovery described themselves as “strong-willed” and even demonstrated an ability to use their determination to overcome the physical discomforts of addiction without returning to substances, that didn’t predict positive outcomes.
Instead, the study found that people who described themselves as strong-willed and who were able to discuss multiple strategies for staying in recovery, such as gaining control over their environment, were most likely to keep on the path. It wasn’t just that they had the will, in other words, but that they also had the ways.
Why Are Strategies Important?
Elsewhere in the study, a few theories are posited as to why this is. One is that we only have so much will to spend (called “ego depletion”). People with other issues, such as ill family members or legal concerns, have to spend some will addressing those problems. Other studies have found that rest and positive emotions can help restore these, and being in both a mental and physical place that encourages them can help.
More important is understanding that addiction is not just one behavior but a set of behaviors, both internal, such as untreated mental health concerns, and external, such as environment. For example, if environmental factors such as screaming neighbors and loud music trigger headaches, and prescription painkillers dull the headaches and help them sleep, returning to that environment can strongly motivate people to return to the pills. This is why many people in recovery step away from their normal routines and places, at least for a while, to help break these habits.
Harris House Can Help
There is no one strategy for recovery. Being in a supportive environment away from concerns and with people to help design and put multiple strategies in place can help with the journey. To learn more about the rehab programs offered by Harris House, contact us.