If you could end addiction by doing 4 things… would you try?


“Ah, the sun is blinding
I stayed up again
Oh, I am finding
That that’s not the way I want my story to end” – Pink

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step groups are the leading U.S. approach to addiction recovery. Millions have attended these meetings and “worked the steps.”

However, many individuals will not attend these meetings, or will not attend them long enough to change. Their reasons include not wanting to accept the labels “addict” or “alcoholic,” not wanting to participate in groups of any kind, not wanting to consider oneself powerless, not thinking of oneself as having a disease, or not wanting an approach that encourages lifelong attendance.

In a perfect world, there would be no addiction or need for 12 StepGroups… but nothing is perfect for many the 12 Step program does not work… fortunately, there are alternatives to AA, NA, OA, GA… You get the picture….

The non-12-step mutual aid groups include SMART Recovery, Moderation Management, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing Secular Recovery and Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Each group has an active presence on the Internet. Through their websites, one can also find information about non-12-step based treatments.

face5These non-12-step groups can be more positively defined as self-empowering groups. Self-empowering groups encourage individuals to take charge of their lives and leave addiction (and eventually recovery) behind. In contrast to the 12-step approach, self-empowering groups support individuals in taking charge of their lives rather than accepting powerlessness and turning their lives over to a higher power.

The Serenity Prayer, often used at AA meetings, provides a framework for understanding a fundamental difference between powerlessness and self-empowering recovery:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

A 12-step approach is a serenity approach to recovery. A self-empowering approach is a courage approach. As the Serenity Prayer suggests, we all need both serenity and courage. However, most of us prefer one approach to the other. To use the language of scientific psychology, some of us tend toward an external locus of control (serenity) and others tend toward an internal locus of control (courage). Locus of control refers to our expectation about what in the future will shape our lives more (e.g., what controls us, or who is in charge): What happens to us, or what we do about it.

Self-empowering approaches to addiction recovery are well-suited for individuals3049674-KEQLYHCW-8 who have an internal locus of control. Rather than thinking they have lost control of their lives because they have a disease, these individuals want to learn how to build motivation, control craving, resolve their underlying problems, and move on to creating meaningful and purposeful lives.

SMART Recovery is the best-known and most widely available of the self-empowering recovery groups.  The SMART Recovery website and its activities and community could be a substitute for face-to-face meetings for many individuals and locations. Many SMART Recovery participants include 12-step meetings in their recovery plans, either to have a common face-to-face component or because they find aspects of both programs helpful.

SMART Recovery follows certain guidelines many people dealing with substance use issues like, such as:

  • Teaches tools for recovery based on evidence-based addiction treatment
  • Does not use the labels “addict” or “alcoholic”
  • Encourages participation only for as long as it is perceived to be useful
  • Allows for truly anonymous participation via a screen name on the website
  • Allows participants their own perspective on whether addiction is a disease
  • Teaches tools for recovery that are useful regardless of what the participant believes (or not) about God

u202_COME-TO-ME-Lady-s-Portrait-Painting-HelenaWierzbickiIn addition to providing free, science-based, self-empowering addiction recovery mutual aid groups, SMART Recovery advocates for choice in recovery. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors, including alcoholism, drug abuse, substance abuse, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction, and addiction to other substances and activities.

The 4-Point Program offers specific tools and techniques for each of the program points:

Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation

Point 2: Coping with Urges

Point 3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

Point 4: Living a Balanced Life

The SMART Recovery program is a community-based self-help program, which can be an alternative to, or complement to, 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). Although not as widespread or well-known as 12 step groups, there is an extensive network of over 500 meetings, which are available in many countries, and online meetings on the Internet. This is a boon to people with addictions who require ongoing support: No matter where you go, you can often find a meeting if you want to attend one.

SMART Recovery meetings are facilitated, and the meetings themselves follow a standardized format. This can provide a great advantage over 12 step groups, which can vary greatly and can be dominated by individuals pushing their own agenda. Another advantage is that, unlike AA and other 12 step groups, SMART Recovery is based on sound and proven psychological and evidence-based approaches.

89f728ff42c17c95067df6e166c9180a--pop-art-portraits-creative-portraitsSome members also appreciate the fact that SMART Recovery makes no demands of participants to engage in spiritual practices. Moreover, particularly important to those with a dual diagnosis involving mental health problems, or a physical health issue requiring psychoactive medications, you will not be faced with individuals suggesting that this is another form of “addiction,” which can sometimes happen with extremist 12 step participants. In fact, the SMART Recovery Program states that it supports the appropriate use of medications.

SMART Recovery is a valuable tool for anyone struggling with addictions… it’s free, and available online. If following 4 steps could improve the quality of life, why wouldn’t a person, at least, try it?

A solution may be a click away … www.smartrecovery.org

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

Addiction changes the way you think

ae694743ca8ec3cc73b1e58bcbf3cbc7How many times have you looked at a person lost in addiction and thought, “I have no idea what you’re thinking? Why do you continue to destroy everything in your life? You see them self-destructing but you cannot understand why they are doing it. You’re watching them die and there is nothing you can do to stop them. You’ve rescued them time and time again… and you can’t understand why they return to addictions that will kill them.

Recently, I read an article by Jim LaPierre that outlined some facts a lot of people don’t realize when dealing with an addict or alcoholic. The most notable is alcoholics and addicts think like the rest of the world… we’re not wired the same.

Sadly, well-intentioned folks try to protect the alcoholic from him/herself (enabling) or try to predict what they will do next (no crystal ball available). There are hundreds of wise sayings amongst alcoholics in recovery. Some are meant to make you think and some are made to be taken very literally. Alcoholics Anonymous refers to, “the insanity of our disease.” This is a very literal statement. I can tell you a bit about understanding the active alcoholic but I cannot make it make sense to you because understanding the active alcoholic requires stripping away a lot of rational thought, the acknowledgement and willingness to learn from mistakes, the ability to recognize obvious patterns of behavior, and quite often, the application of common sense.

There are at least a hundred forms of alcoholism. What I am describing here is the person who is still drinking, is high functioning, and has not yet lost the things they hold dear. The disease of addiction dictates that they will lose these things in time and the rule of threes dictates a grim long-term prognosis (jail, institution, and/or death).

Alcoholics think, act, believe, and feel based on distorted perceptions or themselves and the world around them. They live at the extremes of all or nothing. There is no moderation, no middle ground, no compromise, and no gray area in their worldview. To varying degrees, alcoholics live in denial of their destructiveness (self and others) and this further distorts what they can make sense of.

Alcoholics are the very best liars because they are able to use rationalization and justification to convince themselves that a lie is truth. This happens subconsciously. They are not aware that they are, if you’ll pardon the term – mind screwing themselves. Alcoholics adopt a language that facilitates lying in a way that sounds very well intentioned. Their favorite word is, “probably.” This word implies intention where in fact none exists. An alcoholic who tells you they will probably do something is highly unlikely to do it. Using words like these provides them a loophole – an escape hatch in which no absolutes are given and no promises made. The alcoholic relies on words and phrases like: possibly, maybe, would, could, should, I’d like to, I want to, I need to. These words mean nothing. They sound good but almost always lead to disappointment. Progressively, alcoholism blurs every line and impacts every interaction, every relationship, every part of the alcoholic’s world.

Putting blinders on a horse leaves it with no peripheral vision – such is the worldview of the alcoholic. They may attend to many things, but to do so they must turn their attention away from one thing and toward another. Multitasking for the alcoholic means making many messes at once. There is no balance for the active alcoholic. As one area of their life declines they will often focus their attention on it and take it to an extreme. As this happens, another part of their life declines and gradually their life becomes dictated by “firehouse management” – every course of action becomes based on the most pressing problem. This is a downward spiral though some alcoholics manage to maintain it for a very long time.

As alcoholics tend to drink progressively more, they will conceal the frequency and amount they drink. They will tell you they only had three glasses of wine, and this is true. What they have not told you is that each glass was a 16-ounce tumbler. It is not only the drinking that gets hidden; it is also the negative affects alcohol produces in their lives. Alcoholics develop what counselors call “an external locus of control.” Progressively, everything is someone else’s fault. If their job is going poorly, it’s because their boss hates them. If their marriage suffers then, their spouse is unreasonable. If they fail as parents, they will see their children as ungrateful. Everything and everyone become a reason to drink. The spiraling alcoholic will often say that they do not even want to drink but that circumstances like their horrible job/spouse/kids “force” them to.

Alcoholics often have a bizarre sense of entitlement. They reason that having such a difficult/stressful/demanding life entitles them to act in ways that are immature, irresponsible, and selfish. To observe their behavior is to conclude a belief that the world must owe them something. The active alcoholic wallows in self-pity and concludes that they are a victim of life. As they demand more from the world, they expect less and less from themselves.

The quickest route to self-destruction for alcoholics are the words, “Screw it.” This is a declaration that everything is already screwed so they might as well drink. When people decide to stop drinking we encourage them to notice that “It” is actually, “Me.” This is evident in, “It’s not worth it.” On some level the alcoholic always knows the truth and they are usually working hard not to know it. They pretend and demand that those close to them buy into the fantasy that all is well. Life becomes progressively less about anything substantive and progressively more about maintaining appearances. This is well explained in Pink’s song, “Family Portrait.” “In our family portrait we look pretty happy. We look pretty normal…”

Alcoholics are master manipulators. They may not have been con artists before they started drinking but they come to have remarkable skills. They are the folks who can sell ice to Eskimos. They will pick a fight with you because they want to leave and they will have you believing it’s your fault. They show little or no accountability. They may have had integrity before their addiction kicked in but it will be conspicuously absent from their lives as they spiral. There is often one exception to this rule for each alcoholic – one thing they do especially well and it will most generally be their sole source of self esteem. We have known a large number of alcoholics who have incredible work ethics because being a good worker is the one thing they know they’re good at…well, they will say that and drinking.

The disease of alcoholism gradually and insidiously strips everything away from a person. We have been asked countless times whether alcoholism is truly a disease or a choice. In truth it is both. Alcoholism is unique as a disease in that it not only hides from view – it also lies to its carrier about its presence. The person who is active in addiction has a unique choice relative to all other diseases. The alcoholic can go into remission at any time and many do. We see that alcoholics will abstain from drinking for a time to prove to themselves or others that they are not addicted, only to return later with a vengeance.

Recovery from alcoholism involves far more than sobriety. Recovery from alcoholism involves changing every part of a person’s life. The person who only stops drinking is what we refer to as a “dry drunk” meaning that they are every bit as unhealthy they have simply stopped drinking – a small percentage of folks manage this long term. In my professional opinion, real recovery is only made possible by the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Countless positive things can be added to the program of AA, and their importance cannot be overstated. Folks in recovery need the support of family and friends. Sadly, I meet too many friends and family who are unwittingly enabling (protecting an alcoholic from the natural consequences of their behavior) the alcoholic, and this always results in a person staying stuck in addiction.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell

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