light-bulb-1246043_1920Student doctors get all excited when a patient tells them he or she wants to stop drinking or using drugs. Of course, we all like to hear that news. But what they don’t realize early in their training is that it takes more than desire or intention to stop an addiction. The work that has to occur to get control of addiction is difficult and requires internal and on-going motivation. Despite a DUI, liver problems, blackouts and more, a person has to be motivated to do the tough work of healing from a chronic brain disease.

The brain has been rewired with addiction. In order to heal, one step of the work is to overcome the benefits of the addiction. You might think, what? What benefits? Actually, there are many. Staying addicted is a way to avoid the awfulness of withdrawal. It keeps you from feeling emotional pain. To be abstinent, you may have to lose friends, a community, a way of life, and engage in difficult social and relationship interactions, etc. You may have to face your fears.

Good intentions have to be coupled with benefits that make sense to you. The benefits of quitting have to be greater than the benefits of using.

Look, we all do things that aren’t good for us because there is some benefit to us. We overeat because we enjoy the food. We don’t exercise because it feels good to plop into a chair and watch TV. We don’t call our family because we want to avoid conflict. The list goes on. Even when we know something hurts us, we continue to do it because there is some benefit that overrides the quitting.

Finding your motivation to overcome an addiction means looking at the benefits of using and deciding how you would overcome those benefits. What would change in your life that would be good, but also be difficult? What gets in your way? What function does addiction serve in your life?

Sobriety is not easy when you have been medicating life. What are you giving up? Are you ready to give it up and how confident are you that you can do it? Those two questions–how important, but also how confident are you that you can do it,  take thought. We engage in certain behavior and thoughts because they have benefit to us. What are those benefits? If you want to stop an addiction, the motivation to change has to be stronger than staying where you are. And this takes an honest look at how addiction works in your life.

For many people, the thought of living life without drugs is frightening. There is the disappointment to face from family and friends, the amends that have to be made, the work on facing painful things, how you feel about yourself, how you cope with negativity and past hurts, the worry about being alone and isolated. Maybe depression will result. Substances allow us to check out from pain and discomfort and feel good for the moment. Facing life sober is hard work.

The light bulb moment here is to answer the question, do I get more from using than not using? What would I be giving up? Are there more reasons to keep using than to be abstinent? Do I have the confidence I can do what it takes? If not, why not? Find your motivation and you will be on the path to freedom. The work to rewire the brain takes time and motivation. The drive to keep going will be based on finding more benefits to being sober than escaping and avoiding life through substance use.


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