Realistic Addiction Recovery

Addiction recoveryThere’s so much negative news about active addiction and its consequences it helps to balance that out with stories of recovery. Most people don’t hear about addicts in recovery because it’s not news worthy. I’m always careful when talking about addiction recovery — I try to talk about realistic addiction recovery. Too many times, even when someone hears a story about addiction recovery it’s either too dramatic, too flowery or just too unrealistic. The person who hears these stories doesn’t believe them because they appear to be sensationalized — too many stories of wild escapades and not enough description of tortured mental and emotional states. There’s no need to dramatize stories of recovery. The point of the story is to show recovery is possible, although difficult and not always a neat story of tragedy to triumph.

All recovery stories have similarities, yet they’re all unique. Some young people used drugs only a short period of time, but it was enough for them to stop and choose a drug-free life. Some stories are about decades of drinking alcohol, opiate dependence or ups and downs of addictive cocaine use. Simply describing the use, the consequences and the eventually realization of addiction is enough to get a message across. I find it helpful, though, if a person describes their mental states at different stages of addiction.

To use alcoholism as an example, in the beginning a person doesn’t realize they’re susceptible to alcoholism and are in the early stages of alcoholism. No one wants to be an alcoholic — most people who start drinking alcohol just want to be like everyone else — drink and have a little fun, companionship and relaxation. If the drinking becomes heavier than most, it’s easy to justify it by saying you have a high tolerance — it’s even a bragging right to show you can hold your booze. Then when consequences happen, the advancing alcoholic blames stress, or tragic early events, or an overbearing spouse, or bad luck, or whatever. By this time alcohol is something that’s very important to the alcoholic. The alcoholic senses something’s wrong but tells himself he can handle it, that he’ll cut back. 

Then comes the steady decline of breaking promises, shame, anger at losing control, fear of the chaos and regret for the broken relationships, free-floating anxiety that something awful is happening and not knowing what it is or how it will end. These are mental/emotional states that addicts go through in one form or another. This isn’t drama, it’s a realistic decline, a chronic brain disease that takes over a person’s life. It kills many addicts. Most addicts die a premature death due their addiction. The realistic addiction story is a story of hope — it’s a message that the addict doesn’t have to live a tortured life and die prematurely. Recovery can happen.

Gratitude in Addiction Recovery

Gratitude in addiction recoveryThanksgiving always reminds us of gratitude. Gratitude in addiction recovery is a topic we talk about on an ongoing basis as one of the main principles of recovery. The idea behind the principle of gratitude is that recognizing the things for which we should be grateful is more mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy than obsessing over the negatives. In recovery it’s easy to fall into the trap of self pity, poor me, oh why did this happen to me? In reality, recovery from addiction opens up a new world.

Back in the 80s when I started working in the treatment field it was common for people working in the field to be in recovery from addiction. Recovering addicts could relate to the addict coming into treatment and could reach them when others couldn’t. This is how I got into treatment, through my own recovery. I now realize that counselors who aren’t in recovery can be as effective as a recovering addict, but both have strength and weaknesses, all training being equal. I say all this just to write personally about gratitude.

Before I got into recovery, I was lost. I had reached a point where life was meaningless. I felt dead inside and even when I drank alcohol all I felt was some blah sense of “normal” — the “good times” had disappeared a long time before I sought treatment. I had known deep down  for a long time that I had a problem with alcohol, but thought I could handle it myself. I thought I could regulate my drinking if I tried hard enough. Nothing worked. I kept drinking more than I intended to on most occasions. The hangovers got worse. The relationships with my family and friends got worse. They tried to understand, but from their perspective drinking was more important to me than the relationships. I couldn’t argue with them. I couldn’t deny my alcoholism any longer and I sought help.

After being in recovery for a while, my mind cleared up and my emotions returned. Sometimes the emotions were confusing and chaotic, but I talked to people in my support group and made it through without drinking or using any other substitute drug. The desire to create a better life returned and my relationships improved a 1000%. Clarity of mind was the one of the things in the beginning for which I was grateful, but there were many things. I could have fun again with my wife and kids — I could be a friend — I could recreate again and enjoy the little things I had forgotten about in my alcohol fog. My job performance improved immensely and finances were no longer a daily worry. Spiritually, meaning and purpose returned and I started working with other alcoholics who were reaching out for help.

Thanksgiving has a special meaning for me. Gratitude in addiction recovery is very important. I hope I never forget all the things for which I should be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Truth and Consequences of Addiction

truth and consequences of addiction

Lost in addiction

In treatment, truth is vital. The addict has been living in a world of magical thinking, denial, rationalizations, lies, and deceit of all sorts, so in recovery we have to search for what’s real — no worse than what it is and no better than what it is, just what it is — the truth and consequences of addiction.

Sometimes the client in addiction treatment will wake up quickly and realize that change is necessary. When a person comes into treatment seeking the truth, it makes the process much easier, but, most often, the client entering addiction treatment is still in denial and wants to minimize the consequences and hide from the truth. The addict in treatment will usually admit that they have a problem, but they don’t always realize or admit the severity of the problem or connect cause and effect, and they aren’t quite aware of all the consequences caused by alcohol or some other drug.

Here are some of the effects of long term drug use (alcohol is included as a drug, of course) taken from

Among the most common long-term psychological effects of drug addiction are:

  • Depression. As an individual develops a tolerance to drugs, it will take ever-increasing amounts of the substance to get high. When the individual is unable to achieve their desired state of euphoria, they may become depressed. Chronic depression also occurs as the drug addict feels shame and remorse about her condition. This creates a cycle of addiction; the more depressed the feel, the more likely they are to continue to use drugs.
  • •Paranoia. Individuals with a cocaine addiction or marijuana addiction often report a feeling of paranoia over the course of their dependence. The feeling that “everyone is out to get them” is heightened by the fact that buying or using drugs is illegal and the belief that law enforcement is waiting around every corner. Over time, drug addicts tend to get more and more paranoid.
  • •Anxiety. While waiting for their next dose of drugs, many individuals will begin to feel anxious or unsettled. Friends and family report that their loved one has trouble sitting still or staying focused on a single task for any significant amount of time. This anxiety and lack of focus can cause them to slack on job responsibilities and even lose their job. Relationships are also negatively affected by drug-induced anxiety. These are just some of the ways anxiety permeates the life of the drug addict.

These are some physical effects:


  • The kidneys. The human kidney can be damaged by habitual drug use over a period of many years. Kidney failure is not uncommon among long-time users of crystal meth, heroin and other dangerous drugs.

  • •The liver. Liver failure is a well-known consequence of alcoholism, but it is also can occur with individuals using Vicodin and OxyContin habitually over many years.

  • •The heart. Cocaine addicts and stimulant users are doing significant damage to their heart each time they use the drug. The most common conditions among drug addicts are heart disease and heart failure.

  • •The lungs. Any individual who smokes the drug to which they are addicted is putting their lungs in jeopardy. Smoking crack cocaine or crystal meth damages the lungs with a ferocity that rivals long-term nicotine habits. Regular marijuana use also causes damage to the lungs.

When a client doesn’t make progress in treatment realizing the truth and consequences of addiction, we intervene and confront the client with the facts and prognosis. Timing of the intervention is critical. You don’t want to put too much on a person before they’re ready, but, at the right time, confrontation is very effective. If the client doesn’t hear the truth about the condition and realities of addiction, then they’ll likely continue fooling themselves, and this never ends well.

You can summarize a large part of treatment by saying that treatment is effectively conveying to the client the truth and consequences regarding addiction in such a manner they can hear and accept so that they’re motivated to take actions to recover long term.

Symptoms of addiction

signs and symptomsOne question I often get is how does a person know if they’re addicted, especially in the early stages of addiction. In the beginning, the symptoms of addiction are behavioral and psychological more than physical. When a person begins to drink or do drugs at inappropriate times, or when a person sets out to drink just a few drinks, or take just a little cocaine, then winds up drinking more or doing more drugs than they intended, it might be a sign of early addiction. Since it’s easier to write about one drug, we’ll use addiction to alcohol as the example.

Alcoholism has been called controlled and uncontrolled drinking. One would think that if a person can control their drinking they don’t have a problem, but this not necessarily true. Social drinkers don’t “control” their drinking in the real sense of control. The social drinker can take it or leave. Just like I don’t control drinking orange juice — sometimes I’ll drink orange juice and sometimes I won’t — orange juice is not something I obsess over and actively attempt to control. The alcoholic begins to lose control at times in the early stages, so they begin exerting great effort to control the amounts they drink. The early stage alcoholic can control their drinking at times, but then at other times they lose control and drink way more than they intended.

Another sign of early stage alcoholism is tolerance. Social drinkers don’t usually build up a tolerance, but alcoholics build up a tolerance to alcohol and can out-drink most people. The tolerance reduces in late stage alcoholism when the liver no longer functions properly, but, in the beginning, the early to middle stage alcoholic might brag that he/she can drink a lot of alcohol without getting drunk. This is not an accomplishment — it’s a sign of alcoholism and it can do great damage to the body.

In the later stages of addiction, there’s withdrawal when the person stops drinking, and these withdrawals become more severe as time goes on, including Delirium Tremens, what they call DTs, and seizures. At this late stage of alcoholism there’s little doubt, but early stage alcoholism is difficult to detect. If a person is showing signs and symptoms of drug addiction, they should speak with a professional counselor who specializes in addiction treatment. Untreated addiction is dangerous and leads to very bad, often fatal, consequences — it’s not something a person wants to ignore or deny. There should be no shame in seeking help — addiction happens to about 1 in 10 who drink or do other potentially addictive drugs. If you’re worried about your, or someone else’s, drinking or drug use, because you’ve noticed the symptoms of addiction, ask for help.

Resisting Addiction Treatment

resistance to treatment

Winning in Recovery

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, JD, PHD, at, lists 9 reasons for people with alcohol and other drug problems resisting addiction treatment. His first reason cited is the idea that people in recovery are losers. Of course, Dr. Hokemeyer doesn’t accept this. According to Dr. Hokemeyer the reality is: People who stay trapped in their addictions are losers.

This is true. Dr. Hokemeyer goes on to write:

They lose out on meaningful relations with the important people in their lives. They lose their dignity and self respect, their health, their money and their hope. They live in the problem when there’s a solution readily at hand. Sure, it takes work to find the right recovery program and even more work to put together a life that’s grounded in sobriety.

Doing the work is what recovery is all about. Too many people think “help” is given to them. As long as “help is something viewed as given from others, recovery will be difficult. Help is something that is actively sought, internalized, then put into practice. The person addicted to alcohol or some other drug is not expected to know how to deal with addiction — this is the purpose of addiction treatment. But the person looking for help has to take the solutions found in treatment and put the solutions to work.

Those who seek treatment and work at recovery are not losers. It takes courage to face a problem like addiction and deal with it, especially when society has so many crazy notions regarding addiction and recovery. The person in recovery is bombarded with all kinds of prejudice and ill-formed ideas regarding addiction. This is why recovery has to be internalized and looked at as winning, not losing.

There are still medical professionals who think someone with an addiction problem is simply weak-willed. Addiction and recovery must be re-examined. Those in recovery, especially, have to re-evaluate old value-judgments. To think that people in recovery are losers is an idea that should be crushed forever. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll write later regarding the other reasons for resisting addiction treatment.




Addiction and Denial


Here is an excerpt from PsychCentral:

Accepting reality enables us to live in reality.

What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal.

We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves or we try to change things to our liking and needs.


Although in some circumstances denial is a useful coping mechanism, it doesn’t help us solve problems. Nor does blame, anger, or withdrawal.

Denial is more common than we may realize. Everyone alters reality somewhat by perceiving events in accordance with our personal biases. Yet, sometimes we unconsciously use the defense of denial to make reality more palatable. Examples are:

  • Minimizing

  • Rationalizing

  • Forgetting

  • Self-deception

  • Repression

Denial is a big part of addiction, and it frustrates those close to the addicted person. The significant other can see clearly that the problem is alcohol or other drugs, yet the person afflicted denies reality. In treatment we try to move past this denial so that the person accepts reality and begins recovery. In cases of serious addiction and denial that’s almost pathological, a formal intervention might be necessary using leverage to get the person to seek treatment. I’ve seen over and over people forced into treatment through leverage from the family, job or judge accept their addiction problem and start the recovery process.

The old adage that a person has to want to recover before they can recover is not entirely true. Many people who come into treatment have no desire to stop using alcohol or other drugs — they just want to get people off their backs. But once confronted with reality, the person begins to let go of the insane denial and accept their condition. Most times, there’s a grief process giving up alcohol or other drugs, like losing a loved one, or finally accepting a marriage isn’t working. It can be difficult to give up something your mind has told you, erroneously, for years is necessary for your survival.