Recovery or Death?

There may be no cure for addiction, but there are ways of bringing it into remission. Let’s look at how people approach major changes, such as those involved in recovery. Prochaska and DeClemente studied this process in detail, and found that people who are making significant changes in lifestyle go through the following stages: precontemplation, contemplation, action, and maintenance or relapse.

When you are in the precontemplation phase, you are basically enjoying the addiction and do not consider that it might be necessary to change. You are in full denial and able to successfully fend off any anxiety about the addiction.

As negative consequences increase, you may begin to wonder if you might be better off quitting. But you are able to mobilize various strategies, such as blaming, projection, rationalization, and justification, to continue to feel comfortable about your addiction. If someone challenges you about your drinking or drug use, you have a ready reply. In fact, if certain people, such as your spouse or parents, approach you on the subject, you become more determined to persist.

When you enter the contemplation stage, you are beginning to wonder if you need to make some changes. You may not completely accept that the alcohol or drug use has to stop entirely, but you are beginning to recognize that some of your problems might be a result of the addiction. You may sense a loss of control over the use of the substance, and you may realize that it is no longer providing you with relief from uncomfortable feelings.

At this point, the types of interactions that you have with your family or with treatment professionals can either move you along towards taking some action or push you back into the precontemplation stage. It’s as if you are on a seesaw, with part of you wanting to continue the addiction and part of you wanting to stop. If someone else sits on one side of the seesaw - for example, by criticizing you aggressively for the addiction - you may become anxious and then angry, and go on drinking or using for a while before you again feel comfortable enough to consider changing.

(Family members should understand the importance of this stage. They can facilitate and support the addict getting treatment and entering recovery, but if they remain locked in a battle for control they will be making it more difficult.

In Al-Anon and other 12-step programs for family members, the principle of “loving detachment” is taught. Loved ones accept that they cannot control what the addict does about the addiction and become detached by giving up their wish for such control. They remain supportive of any attempts at recovery but do not bail the addict out of difficult situations.)

In the action phase, you make a decision to do something about the addiction. Now you need two things: a belief that it is possible to recover and a way to get started.

It’s useful at this point to go to a 12-step meeting. You can find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or a Narcotics Anonymous meeting by looking in the phone book. Alcoholics Anonymous is usually listed on the first page. Many cities have branch offices of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence where you can also find lists of local meetings. The local mental health center usually has such information, and meetings are often listed in the local paper.

You don’t have to make a decision about recovery in order to go to a meeting. According to the preamble that is recited at the beginning of most AA meetings, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

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