What does alcohol rehabilitation look like? You may imagine yourself on a recovery path that is smooth, wide and straight. Or your path may be winding and narrow, with rocks and overgrowth blocking your progress.
Maybe your rehab isn’t a path at all, but a seemingly endless cycle of using and not using, a cyclical pattern of good periods of time followed by bad.
We ask this question because recovery looks like the individual person, and no two people are alike. One person, through sheer will power and determination may be able to break the bonds of alcoholism, while another needs a multitude of services and nothing seems to work.
Medical people might explain that contrast in terms of an alteration of brain chemistry by the drug, possibly connected directly to some clinical diagnosis of depression.
Others may deny completely that recovery has any medical component at all, that the recovering addict is one who has overcome the demons inside with no help from any therapist, counselor or physician.
If you accept, even for a moment, that alcoholism recovery can be explained in terms of a cycle, most of this section will make sense to you. While there are those who bristle over the idea of people being “helpless” over alcoholism, experience seems to show that most people ARE helpless and that’s what makes alcohol detox so tough!
Celebrities That Have Been Through Rehab
Cycle of Alcoholism/Addiction
I. Triggering Event
There are so many contributing factors to alcoholism, but we will not go into that discussion here. For the purpose of this illustration, we will break down the triggering event into two categories.
First, one might drink for recreation, to get “high.” This party approach to alcohol may be thrill seeking, or have an element of peer pressure attached to it.
The second category is “to numb the pain.” The person uses alcohol to get rid of a feeling, not to create one. Something hurts and the user is trying to numb that hurt. They may just want to feel better, because something is missing from their life, or they may want to escape a reality because it is too much to face.
In either case, whether to have a good time or to numb the pain, the cycle is started. They’re not thinking about alcoholism recovery because they’re not convinced they have a problem.
II. Something is wrong
Many people can drink beer and liquor and never become an alcoholic. They may realize that their drinking is getting in the way, or they just do not enjoy or need to drink anymore. They quit and it’s over.
However, that is not true for so many people, who arrive at the point where they determine there is a problem, but they are still drinking. Perhaps they’re experiencing problems at work, or in personal relationships. Because they are drinking, they may have run into legal problems, such as a DWI/DUI and they realize that change is necessary. They begin to consider alcoholism recovery. They know they have to do something.
III. Try Harder
When the management of their drinking begins to slip away, people will say “I’m going to cut back.” They know something is amiss, but they do not want to go through the fuss of treatment, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Maybe they’ve cut back in the past, or quit altogether, but started using again. They are going to try harder. People don’t want to be told what to do, or how to do something, they want to do it their way. It’s not just people struggling with alcoholism, it’s anybody. American culture reveres the individualist who proudly proclaims, “I did it my way.”
Some people can try harder and succeed. God bless them. Alcoholism recovery is serious work and if somebody can “cut back” or stop using on their own power, that’s much to their credit.
But most people can’t.
The finger pointers will say it’s because of a lack of will power, or a weakness of character. They say those who drink to excess are evil people. However, if one were to examine the other side of the issue and look at the alcoholism in terms of an alteration of brain chemistry, rendering some individuals powerless because of a chronic brain disease, then effort alone seems unrealistic.
Moreover, we are human beings and human beings fail. Nobody bats 1.000 in baseball, and even a player who is considered a great hitter is going to fail seven times out of ten. The world sees a .300 hitter and calls him a star, but he failed in his seven other attempts. If you are batting .300 in your fight against alcoholism, you’re failing.
Think of it in terms of trying to cut back or quit. Smokers can tell you their stories and we’ve all heard them. They’re good at quitting. But it isn’t that easy and neither is alcoholism recovery. If it were, there would be no smokers, and if alcoholism were that easy to overcome, why would there be addicts?
Let’s suppose, for sake of illustration, that a person has made the determination to quit. Being a rational and intelligent person, they formulate a plan to follow and they try hard to execute the plan. They are succeeding. A woman in an alcoholism recovery group once told me that she had “not used” for seven years. Through will power and a plan, she was clean for seven years, but something happened and she found herself at the next stage of the addiction cycle.
Nobody likes to admit failure. It’s an ugly word in the Western culture. We like to think of ourselves as self-made people. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and become famous, or financially independent. We did the work and we deserve the reward. Failure is not permitted and those who fail are weak and undeserving.
In America, only those who win are given the credit. After all, the loser of the big game doesn’t get the parade. People apply winning and losing to alcoholism recovery, as if it were some kind of sporting or business competition. If you failed, you’re a loser.
What if failure was built into the human condition as a necessary indicator of a need for something outside of one’s own self? Alcoholics Anonymous founded its 12-Step program on that very idea, that we all need help.
We’re not meant to be alone, and even though there are those who can break free of alcoholism on their own, the truth is most of us can’t. From a Christian perspective, human failure is a measuring device, to show us that we need God. A medical person might see failure in alcoholism recovery as an indicator that brain chemistry is still out of balance. Frame the failure anyway you like.
The failure can be caused for a variety of reasons. The cycle has come full circle, because something happened. Perhaps in a moment of weakness a person took a drink, or they experienced a traumatic event that was just too much to handle, or any one a thousand reasons prompted them to use again. They are back where they started and they need help.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease
Alcoholism is a chronic disease in our view. The key word is “chronic,” and like diabetes or heart disease, alcoholism needs to be managed. People need management tools to help them keep their lives in balance and to prevent the grip of addiction from squeezing its fingers around their throat.
The cycle needs to be broken, not just stopped.
Whatever the triggering mechanism that causes someone to use, it needs to be addressed. We maintain that the root causes of alcoholism have to be examined to prevent the cycle from continuously spinning. Go to the cause, like dealing with a business management situation, and address the issue, formulate a plan and manage the problem.
People can and do break the cycle. If you can break the cycle on your own, great, but if you can’t there are caring, compassionate professional people to work with you and help you to try or in many cases try AGAIN to break the alcoholism recovery cycle!
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