Myers Counseling Group presents  “Tools for Abstaining from Drug or Alcohol Problems.” This is the last article for our four part substance abuse series. If you have suggestions about other topics related to mental health or substance abuse, let us know.

At Myers Counseling, we offer various services and resources for the community. In addition to our individual, couple and family counseling, we continue to offer group therapy, individualized presentations, drug screening, and school consultations.

“Addiction isn’t about using drugs. It’s about what the drug does to your life.” 
― Enock Maregesi

Tools for Making Changes with a Drug or Alcohol Problem

Denial and resistance are common in addiction. Substance abusers often times deny or minimize the severity or consequences of their use. When they do this, they are trying to convince themselves as much as others. As problematic as their use may be, a part of them just does not want to give it up. It is easier for them to minimize the impact of use than face the challenges of abstaining and ramifications of their use.

A person who abuses drugs or alcohol, seeks out the high. When they use, the substance stimulates the reward center in their brain and creates an enjoyable emotion. However, in time, the brain becomes rewired. Individuals who conitnue with use become dependent on the drug to feel good, losing their own natural ability to feel good on their own. Furthermore, as time goes along, they become dependent on the drug to deal with challenges they face. Their problem solving and coping ability becomes greatly diminished. This creates a dependent feedback loop where they turn back to the drug to help them cope or escape reality.

Identifying that there is a problem is the first hurdle. We need to understand that although  substance abuse has created a negative impact on someone’s life, it does not take away from the enjoyment they receive from it. Furthermore, a lifestyle may have been developed revolving around the use, making it even more challenging to stop.

Abusers need to  remember the consequences of their use. Separating the desire to use (urge) from what you feel you need to do (abstain). In the recovery field this is referred to as the Addictive Voice. It is the voice inside addicts that tries to minimize consequences, underestimate relapse situations, and make excuses to use again. The sooner one could recognize this voice, the more promising their recovery.

The next area to address is making a firm commitment to recovery. Establishing goals that would support this commitment are important. The more gray area(ambiguity) there is in their commitment the more chance there is in the “voice” winning over. “I will stop using drugs” versus “I will slow down my use” are two different statements. The latter statement is hard to measure and allows wiggle room. The former is easy to measure and commits to a direction.

Lifestyle changes will also need to be examined. This involves looking at situations that increase the chance of a relapse. Examining changes include people, places, activities, and/or events is an extremely important part of the recovery process. It is helpful to know that urges will happen, this is the nature of addiction. Learning to create gaps from when you experience an urge and the access to the target of that urge are important in recovery. The less access one has  to carry out the urge, the more likelihood the sober voice will win out. Urges will eventually go away. If you give into the urge, it will only come back stronger the next time.

Recovery is an ongoing process. It is helpful to build on a sober network and create a sober lifestyle. Just deciding to stop may not be enough.  Additional support could be accessed through support groups (see our website for a listing of support groups) and/or professional help (counseling). There are many roads to recovery and individuals need to decide which one best fits their journey.  It is clear that the further along patterns of use are established, the more difficult it may be to change them. However, no matter how firmly established the use is, change is possible for everyone.