“Why can’t you just stop?”
“Can you just lay off of the hard stuff tonight?”
“It’s your mom’s birthday. Maybe just stay sober so you don’t ruin it like last year.”
If you’re an alcoholic, you’ve likely heard one of these things before, or a variation of it, at some point during your life. Or perhaps you’ve even asked it of yourself. Whenever our drinking becomes a problem and the people around us start to notice they seem to have many questions like this.
But is addiction ever about willpower?
An alcoholic knows that they can’t “just have one drink”. One is too many and a thousand is never enough, according to the oft-quoted saying. How true.
Research states there is a reason for this. It has nothing to do with being weak or having a lack of self-control; there are biological explanations for why an alcoholic can’t stop at one drink or an addict can’t “just stop using.”
The First Time is a Choice to Drink or Use
The first time an alcoholic or addict decides to take a drink or a drug it is a choice. You made the decision to pick up for the first time; your genes didn’t force you to. Some say you’ll never become an alcoholic or addict if you don’t drink the first drink or use the first drug.
Although there is a genetic predisposition in some that cause these individuals to process alcohol and drugs differently than other people, there is no genetic disposition forcing the individual to make the decision in the first place.
After the First Time, It’s No Longer a Choice
Once an alcoholic or addict takes a drink or uses, no longer is addiction about willpower. The “solution to life” is discovered and it becomes a seemingly endless battle against taking the next drink or drug. Chasing the high is all too common for addicts and alcoholics.
Repeated use of addictive substances reforms the neural pathways in the brain and causes a change in the way an alcoholic or addict processes these substances. The stimulating effects are chased endlessly in order to make themselves feel “right” or “okay”.
The Changes Don’t Have to Be Permanent
The changes in brain function diminish after weeks, months, and years of discontinued use. The altered state of an alcoholic or addict’s brain doesn’t have to remain the same. If sobriety is sought after and maintained, they can lead happy, healthy lives free from alcohol dependence and drug abuse.
Even with this renewed rewiring, the potential for relapse is still high during the early stages of sobriety. It is important that you develop healthy coping skills or a community of people who understand the battle you face on a daily basis. The decision to stop drinking or using is a difficult one but provides a new life, one free from slavery to drugs and alcohol.
Have you struggled with explaining to someone who asks if the addiction is about willpower? Send them this blog post or the research article attached to help them better understand the underlying reasons for alcohol and drug abuse.
You are not less than because of your addiction, you are not weak. You can overcome your struggles and live a new life.