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Do You Ever Stop Being An Alcoholic?

Over the last several years, as a society, we’ve undergone a number of radical shifts with regard to the way we consider addiction. Initially considered a character defect or something to be ashamed of, addiction is now recognized by most medical institutions as a largely medical issue, which deserves the appropriate amount of time and attention in order for treatment to be as effective as possible. Addiction isn’t the sign of a lack of willpower, it’s an illness and a complicated illness at that. Treatment is often multi-faceted and can involve anything and everything from psychiatric care, cognitive behavioural therapy, and medication, right the way up to intensive relapse-prevention methods and inpatient hospitalization.

One of the core questions people have about addiction and alcoholism is whether or not it’s possible to stop being an addict. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, is how the saying generally tends to go, with 12-step groups buying into this logic as a means of keeping their members as sober as possible for as long as possible. But to what extent is this actually an accurate account of what it is to be an addict? In the following article, we’ll be examining whether that oft-repeated slogan is true or not.

Close up of a shot glass with a blurry drunk man sitting at a bar in the background

The Root Of The Problem

First of all, it makes sense to examine why exactly this attitude of ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ has come about in the first place. The most important reason that led to its creation is the fact that when addicts spend some time sober and begin to think that they’re over the hump of addiction, as it were, they’re actually leaving themselves open to risk of relapse, especially if they don’t pursue cognitive behavioural therapy to help rewire the way they behave and handle ups and downs in life. This itself has a few causes behind it.

It’s a story as old as time, especially to people who have some prior experience with addiction. The alcoholic hits rock bottom and seeks out help. Assuming they find it, they’re likely enough to be able to stay sober for an initial period. Groups, cognitive behavioural therapy, and social support all play their own roles in keeping the period of sobriety going for as long as possible. However, there are pitfalls out there for recovering alcoholics, and they’re not confined to bars and pubs.

A huge problem for people who are trying to stay sober is the sheer amount of time they suddenly have to fill. Because of the degenerative and isolating nature of addiction, the drug of choice — be it alcohol, cocaine, or anything else — will usually have expanded to fill just about every area of their life by the time things get so dire that they hit rock bottom. When alcoholics try to return to their lives without the crutch of the drug, they’re suddenly smacked in the face with a colossal amount of time to fill and nothing to fill it with. Thinking isn’t going to help since part of what makes addiction so difficult to treat is the famous ‘addict’s thinking’ which is capable of rationalizing returning to drug use in just about any situation.

Moving Forward

Anybody who has a long time spent in sobriety after struggling with addiction will most likely tell you that they still consider themselves an addict. The fight against picking up and using again is one they have to come face to face with every single day, and it doesn’t necessarily get easier anytime soon. By thinking of themselves as addicts still, they’ll be safeguarding themselves against the potential trap of assuming that everything is normal again — it’s at moments like these that the urge to pick up a drink can come on out of nowhere, often too strong to resist.

Cravings are a massive issue that people who don’t have prior experience with addiction will likely not be able to understand completely. There are a few different ways to deal with cravings, including going to 12-step help groups and calling a trusted friend when you feel like you might pick up a drink if you don’t have a little support right here, right now. These are only a couple methods, though, and as time progresses and science spends more and more time searching out the root causes of addiction, we’ve been able to develop some really advanced therapeutic techniques that can have incredible effects on how recovering alcoholics function, think, and ultimately live.

Close up of a professional therapist taking notes at a CBT session

CBT

One of the most impressive of these, results-wise, is CBT. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a highly-specialized program of talk therapy that is typically either carried out in private sessions with a trained psychologist or in group therapy sessions with other people going through a similar struggle. The main logic behind CBT is the idea that we all have ways we instinctively react to different stimuli. For a lot of addicts and alcoholics, the way they react to unpleasant emotions like pain, sadness, anxiety, and fear is by picking up their drug of choice and using. This is most often a conditioned response that has strengthened over the years of using, to the point where dealing with these issues can seem impossible without the chemical crutch.

Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to help the patient re-program the way they react to stressful stimuli, by focusing attention on being able to deal with the initial shock of the unpleasant experience and working through the distress, rather than turning to alcohol or drugs immediately. This is tough, psychologically speaking, but it has been shown to have serious and measurable results and is considered one of the very best tools available to us today in the fight against addiction.

Conclusion

Whether or not you’re always an alcoholic is going to come down to how you want to think of yourself, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the reason many people consider themselves addicts for life is that it’s a way for them to keep on track.

If you’re interested in more about how cognitive behavioural therapy can be used to help recovering alcoholics stay sober, you can check out the rest of Freedom From Addiction’s website; or if you have more specific questions, feel free to get in touch with us here. A member of our team will be glad to walk you through anything you’re not sure about.

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